Music Wrestling with Religion: Hopsin (Explicit Language)

Lately, I’ve been interested how music reflects upon religion and religious topics. So, I plan on sporadically posting the music of some artists who have wrestled with this issue through their own music. Regarding the explicit language, I am not interest in censoring how people deal with the question and issue of religion.

Ill Mind of Hopsin 7 (Explicit):

On Prophecy in the Ancient World

third_mari

Source: Wikipedia

More often than not, understandings of prophecy arise from hearing about or reading the Hebrew Bible. Books like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Isaiah shapes and form these understandings. In this blog post, I will briefly examine one example of prophecy which occurred before all else in the Hebrew Bible. By looking at this text, I hope to demonstrate, through non-biblical material, a function of prophecy in the ancient world. The letter which I will write about was written around the 18th century BCE (c. 1800 BCE) [1].

In this letter, Inibsina is communicating with her brother who she calls Kakkabi (Zimri-Lin) [2]. Within the letter, we first read the following: “Previously, Selebum the Assinu gave a prophecy to me… Now, one female Qammatum of Dagan of Terqa came to me.” Here, Inibsina is telling Kakkabi that she previously received a prophecy. Now, she received another prophecy from a religious priestess. What did this priestess prophecy, then?

“The alliances of the men of Esnunna (a city in the ancient world) are deceptive. And, under the straw, the water will go; and toward the net, of which it can be said I will bind, I will gather it. His city I will destroy, and his stuff, which from ancient times was not defiled, I will defile.”

What is going on here? For the sake of this post, there are two main things which should be addressed: what is the message and who is the speaker?

In this prophecy which was first reported to Inibsina, the message is fairly straightforward: current allies of Kakkabi are deceptive and will not remains faithful to the alliance. As a result, the god Dagan of Terqa will destroy the city of those in the alliance who are deceptive [3]. In other words, the god recognizes the unfaithfulness of some members in the alliance. So, he will destroy them. As for the speaker, it is Dagan of Terqa speaking through the Qammatum priestess.

What does this mean, though, for how we think about religion, politics, and society in the ancient world? As this text demonstrates, the gods are understood to be directly involved in politics and social relation. Consequently, religion is directly involved with politics and social relations. Viewing it the other way, politics is directly involved with religion. Either way we look at this letter, it is evident that the people living in 18th century BCE Mari did not make a large distinction, if any, between politics and religion. They were intrinsically intertwined, if not the same.

Likewise, prophecy was intrinsically intertwined into politics. Although popular modern notions of prophecy tend to distinguish it from politics, this ancient letter demonstrates that it was, during this period, understood as part of the political atmosphere. This notion of prophecy for both religious and political ends is important because it may inform how we understand prophecy within the Hebrew Bible. Though I do not advocate that all prophecy in the Hebrew Bible is politically driven, it is worth keeping this reality in mind as we read through prophetic literature in the Hebrew Bible [4].

[1] ARM 10 80. Translation is my own.

[2] Martti Nissinen, Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East, Atlanta: SBL Press, p. 28 n. b. For simplicity, Kakkabi is best understood as a nickname for Zimri-Lin.

[3] My attempt is not a careful and close reading. I simply want to present the gist of the text.

[4] Ancient Israelite prophecy is, in fact, a unique phenomenon.

Bibliography:

Charpin, Dominique (Paris), “Mari”, in: Brill’s New Pauly, Antiquity volumes edited by: Hubert Cancik and , Helmuth Schneider. Consulted online on 23 April 2017 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e723510&gt;

Nissinen, Martti, Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East, Atlanta: SBL Press,

A Translation of Psalm 93

In this translation of Psalm 93, my goal is not to present a ‘literal’ translation. Rather, my goal is to demonstrate the historical context and understanding of this ancient Judean Psalm through the translation itself. Furthermore, this is primarily an attempt to provide clarity for myself in my understanding and interpretation of this Psalm. That said, some of it may be unclear. I still hope it is enjoyable.

1a. Yahweh is King!
1b. In majestic attire he is clothed,
1c. He is clothed, namely Yahweh, in mighty attire.
1d. He himself is girded [for war].

1e. Moreover, he established the world
1f. It will not be shaken (or it is immovable).

2a. Your throne was established from a time of old
2b. From eternity you are.

3a. The rivers looked up to Yahweh,
3b. The rivers raised their thunders (in the sense of a loud war cry)
3c. The rivers will grow their crashing! (in the sense of more war cries.

4a. Great than the thunders of the sea,
4b. And more majestic than the breakers of the sea,
4c. Is Yahweh, mighty in the high place.

5a. They have greatly confirmed your throne (or testimonies)
5b. Your temple is befitting for the holy ones (or holiness)

5c. Yahweh is for all days!

Although it may be difficult to detect, this Psalm contains much mythical imagery. For example. the idea of a deity girding himself in might is a common idea throughout the ancient Near East. So, Yahweh is not just putting on an idea of might; rather, Yahweh is putting on a physical thing, namely might as armour.

In 1e-f, we see that Yahweh established the world! He established the world in such a way that no other deity is able to come shake it. Importantly, the notion of establishing the world is directly related the kingship. So, when Yahweh establishes the world so that it is immovable, he is also establishing his rule over the world.

Verses 2a-b confirm this. Here, though, somebody is speaking directly to YHWH. Due to this Psalm’s affinities with language from older West Semitic compositions, some have dated this text as far back as the 10th century BCE (cf. Shenkel, 1965). This means the Psalms may have actually been used for worship in the ancient world. Here, then, the people using this Psalm may have been involved. Responding to Yahweh’s status as a divine warrior and establishment of the world, they speak directly to him. They do this by acknowledging the antiquity of Yahweh.

In 3a-c, the myth of the defeat of the sea is told. Throughout ancient myth, the waters are often times the antagonist. We see the same thing in this Psalm. The Psalm begins by recounting the account: the waters looked towards Yahweh, and they raised their thunder! Now, they will make more thunder with their crashing. The question of noise is important because throughout ancient myth, deities often turn against those who make noise. We see this in Enuma Elish and Atrahasis. So, here the waters are the antagonist because they will become louder by crashing more.

In 4a-c, Yahweh is said to be great than all the mighty and majesty of the seas. In light of the idea of noise as a form of rebellion, 4a-c shows that this rebellion of nothing for Yahweh. After all, Yahweh is mightier than the seas. His high place, namely his temple, is so far above the rebellious waters that they pose no threat to him, for he is mightier than them.

Like 2a-b, we see more speech directed towards Yahweh in 5a-b. Here, they first comment that Yahweh’s majesty over and above the waters confirms his status as divine ruler. Regarding the choice of throne as opposed to testimonies, this is a complicated argument which I will not lay out here. If you are interested let me know. Following, the speaker(s) comment that Yahweh’s temple is befitting for the holy ones, or holiness. Again, this is a complicated issue. Even so, the point is that Yahweh’s temple represents the strength of the divine warrior.

Finally, 5c concludes with a declarative statement. It is like putting the cherry on top of the McFlurry.

What Do I Think About the Hebrew Bible?

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14th century CE copy of the Bible (Source: Wikipedia)

Previously, I posted about how we can think about the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible. As I continue this series, I plan to continue exploring this question. Although it may not seem important, one of the most important things we can do first is ask ourselves a question: what do I think of the Hebrew Bible? Preconceived notions of the Hebrew Bible will often times guide how we read and understand the Hebrew Bible. Interestingly, this can happen across the spectrum. In order to demonstrate this, I will offer thoughts from both sides of the spectrum. I know these are not representative of everybody. I use these generalizations in order to make the point that we have to think about what we think of the Hebrew Bible, regardless of where we stand.

On the far right, we have conservative groups. These groups may be Christian or Jewish. Often times, when more conservative readers approach the Hebrew Bible, there is a preconceived notion that the text of the Hebrew Bible is holy in some manner. Being holy, it will speak the truth. Therefore, what we see in the bible is probably historically accurate.

Naturally, this view is not necessarily wrong. As I pointed out previously, some parts of the Hebrew Bible may be historically reliable. Other parts of it may not be historically reliable. So, in one sense, it is good that conservative groups automatically assume the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible. Many part of I and II Kings, for example, are historically reliable.

However, this view is also problematic. Think about, for example, Genesis 1:1-2:4. Many would argue that this text reflects and records the history of how God created the universe. When we look the Hebrew Bible’s historical context, though, it becomes apparent that there are many versions of how deities created the world and established kingship. Historically, these texts were never meant to present a material history of exactly how the deity created; rather, they were meant to demonstrate that the deity was a legitimate ruler. In other words, the goals was not to write history.

Therefore, it is problematic to see Genesis 1:1-2:4 as a historical account of how God created the world. I make this claim  based on the historical context of Genesis 1:1-2:4.

On the other side of the spectrum, though, we have people who are strongly opposed to religion. And the Hebrew Bible is a religious book. Therefore, we should be extremely skeptical about it [1]. In reading the Hebrew Bible, they may be substantially more skeptic about accepting anything in it as historically reliable. This approach, of course, is valuable. Like I posted previously, some part of the Hebrew Bible are absolutely not historical. Genesis 1:1-2:4, for example, is myth. It is not history.

However, some part of the Hebrew Bible are historically reliable. So, viewing the Hebrew Bible entirely skeptically is problematic. Consider, for example, II Kings 18-19. In this passage, we see an account of Sennacherib attacking Jerusalem. What is more, we also have written documentation by Assyrians during that period which reference this attack upon Jerusalem. Although both texts differ in how they understand the event, they nonetheless point to the same event. Therefore, we should be cautious to quickly dismiss the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible.

In either case, whether conservative or liberal and strongly opposed to religion, we must recognize that we often read our own preconceived notions and ideas into the Hebrew Bible. These notions may sometimes be valuable, such as skepticism of the historical reality of Genesis 1:1-2:4. Or, on the other side, acceptance of the historical reality of Kings. In either case, the reader needs to be critical not just of the text; rather, the reader needs to be critical of where they come from.

By asking ourselves, “What are my preconceived ideas about the Hebrew Bible,” we are able to approach it critically. We are able to ask questions which we normally wouldn’t ask. Only by doing this are we able to think about the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible [2].

[1] Please let me know if this is totally inaccurate. This was not my background. So, it is more difficult for me to explain.

[2] This is a constant process. No matter how long one has been reading the Hebrew Bible or studying the ancient Near East, we must constantly ask ourselves what our own preconceived notions are.

Psalm 100: Translation and Comments

This Spring Quarter, I am taking a Hebrew Reading course on the book of Psalms. Each week, we are required to translate one, pre-selected Psalm. This post contains a small snippet from my observations, notes, and translation of Psalm 100.

Translation:

  • 1a: A Song for Thanksgiving
  • 1b: Raise a shout to Yahweh, all the land!
    • 2a: Serve Yahweh in joy
      • 2b: Come before him in exultation.
        • 3a: Know that he is Yahweh // he is God
          • 3b: He created us.
        • 3c: And, indeed, we are his people // the sheep of his pasturage
      • 4a: Come to its gates in thanksgiving, its courts in praise
    • 4b: Laud praise to him
  • 4c: Bless his name.
  • 5: For
    • 5a(1): Yahweh is good
    • 5b(1): From Prehistory is his devotion
    • 5a(2): generation unto generation
    • 5b(2): and his steadfastness.

In following paragraphs, I will briefly attempt to make one point about the Psalm. Unlike what modern reading tend to draw from a Psalm such as this, ancient readings likely understood this Psalm within a temple context. Words in a Psalm like this were not mere spiritual ideals and feelings; rather, the words reflect a culture in which bloody sacrifice took place within a temple. People approached altars and offered incense. It is in this context that this Psalm was composed. By recognizing this, we can begin to appreciate the art of the Psalm at a new, deeper level.

flock_of_sheep

Image from Wikipedia; #TheSheepOfHisPasturage

The Title: A Song for Thanksgiving

The first thing in Psalm 100 is a title: A Song for Thanksgiving. The title merits some discussion. Often times, when we see words like ‘thanksgiving’, the imagery is simply that of offering a thanks through some sort of statement. In Psalm 100, this idea of ‘thanksigiving’ is true; however, the meaning of thanksgiving goes much deeper. In a West Semitic context, namely where this Psalm was likely composed, the idea of thanksgiving related to temple and cultic worship. So, giving thanks is not merely a vocal, interpersonal statement. Giving thanks involved liturgy and offerings. Offerings could include burning grain, incense, or something similar. Offerings could also include the bloody sacrifice of goat, ram, bird, or something similar.

For the original context and audience, then, the title A Song for Thanksgiving carries notions which involved all the senses. A sacrifice or offering of thanksgiving would involve physically approaching an altar, seeing the altar, smelling the offering, feeling the heat from the fire, and much more. In short, the language which this Psalm uses expresses a physical experience, not just an emotional, spiritual experience with the deity.

The Imperatives of the Psalm

With awareness of the aforementioned materiality represented through the Psalm, we can better appreciate the Psalm as a whole. So, in the following discussion, I will use some of the language within the Psalm in order to help draw out the world of the Psalm.

The Psalm consistently uses imperatives (italics=imperative). An imperative means that the form of the verb used is commanding a group of people: “You do this!” Within this Psalm, the first three commands are to raise a shout, serve Yahweh, and come before Yahweh. The first command carries a sense of exultation. Just as people raise a shout when President Obama speaks at events, the actors in Psalm 100 are to raise a shout of exultation for Yahweh.

The second imperative is to serve. Concepts of “serving” in a West Semitic context was not like modern notions. To serve, one was not an usher at a church, or a deacon. Rather, people served within a temple to the deity. And a temple was the house of the deity. Therefore, one served in the house of a deity, quite literally. With this understanding, we begin to see how grounded in reality Psalm 100 is. It isn’t commanding the audience to serve Yahweh by going to the nations and being a deacon; rather, it is commanding the audience to serve in a physical temple. The temple, of course, is the abode of Yahweh.

The third imperative is to come. In order to come, though, it must be to something physical. So, the text specifically commands one to come before Yahweh, before his face. Within a West Semitic context, this may mean coming before the altar of the deity. So, the Psalm is, again, very grounded in the reality of temple worship. Modern notions of coming before God are about gathering together and performing liturgy. Ancient notions of coming before a deity were about coming before some true, physical representation of the deity.

Unfortunately, due to the amount of time not available to me, I can’t write much more than this at the moment. Though, I hope that this brief, not-so-thorough discussion of the Psalm may help you to better appreciate the historical context of Psalm 100, and perhaps all of the Psalms.

 

Is the Hebrew Bible a Historically Reliable Text?

The following is a draft which I am developing for Ancient History Encyclopedia. Although I will be writing on ancient Israelite and Judean religion, the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible is problematic for many, scholars and non-scholars alike. In particular, the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible’s portrayal of ancient Israelite religion is problematic. Thus, I wrote this piece to undergird my presentation of ancient Israelite and Judean Religion. As I proceed, I will add more layers to the issue. My goal, though, is to make the information comprehensible. 

The historicity of the Hebrew Bible is a complex issue. In order to decide whether or not it is historically reliable, we must pay close attention to the text, archaeology, and other literature from the ancient Near East. After analyzing the Hebrew Bible alongside other ancient Near Eastern literature and archaeology, we can make an informed decision as to whether or not we should utilize the Hebrew Bible for understanding the history in the regions throughout the Levant (the Levant is the area encompassing modern day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria).

800px-targum

Source: Wikipedia

In seeking to understand the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible, though, we must take three factors into consideration. First, we must consider that the Hebrew Bible was not originally written and composed as a single document; rather, it is an anthology of ancient writings. The ancient writing were written by many authors, over a long period of time. Thus, any attempt to answer the question must consider the varying degrees of historically reliability of texts within the anthology. Some texts may be historically reliable. Some texts may not be historically reliable.

Second, we must consider the length of time over which the Hebrew Bible was developed. As Sara Mandell notes, the history of the Hebrew Bible is “a historically late, redacted composite that presents the diverse religious and historical perspectives of its several layers of editors.”[i] In simpler words, the Hebrew Bible consists of texts which were edited by many people. By the time of the earliest, fully compiled version of the Hebrew Bible (c. 300 BCE), the text had been developed and edited for nearly 600 years. Because it was developed over such a long period of time, it contains traditions and ideas which reflect the culture of the 10th century BCE. Yet, it also contains traditions and ideas which reflect the culture of the 3rd century BCE. So, when we think about whether or not the Hebrew Bible is historically reliable, it is essential that we recognize that it was written and edited over a long period of time and in many different historical contexts, not just one.

Third, the Hebrew Bible is not just history. Within the Hebrew Bible, there are many different genres of texts. For example, the Psalms contains liturgical hymns used in temple contexts, lamentations, personal prayers, and many other genres of literature. Additionally, texts like 1 and 2 Kings are historiography, historiography being an attempt to tell history through a particular worldview. In the case of 1 and 2 Kings, the author(s) viewed the history through a theological lens. In addressing the historically reliability of the Hebrew Bible, then, we must think about the genre of text. Would one read Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) like it is a poem? Absolutely not. Darwin’s book is about scientific observations. It does not fall within the genre of poetry. Likewise, we should be aware of the genre of text we read within the Hebrew Bible. By doing so, it can help us to understand how relevant the particular text in terms of its historical reliability.

To summarize, the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible is not a simple question to answer. We must take into consideration archaeology, other ancient literature, and the complicated nature of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible is, after all, (1) an anthology of many texts and traditions from the ancient Levant. (2) These texts were developed over a period of nearly 600 years! 600 years ago from 2017, the USA did not exist, France was not established as a country, and the events which inspired some of Shakespeare’s plays were still taking place. In other words, a lot can happen in 600 years, both in Europe and the ancient Levant. Within the anthology of texts composed over a long period of time, namely the Hebrew Bible, (3) things were written in many different genres. By being aware of different genres, we can think about how we should read the text. Should we read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games as a story? Or should we read it as a history like Edward Gibbon’s History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire? These are pertinent questions and considerations when thinking about whether or not a text within the Hebrew Bible is historically reliable.

 

[i] Sara Mandell, “Israelite Religion”, in Encyclopedia of Judaism, vol. II.

“Israelite Religion” by Sara Mandell

The following are some brief notes on Sara Mandell’s entry titled “Israelite Religion” in the Encyclopedia of Judaism.

  • “The Israelite religion presented in the Hebrew Scriptures has little substantial relationship to the historical reality” (1194).
    • Narratives constructed reflect a post-Exile theological and ideological bias.
  • No “Israel” before 13th century BCE, the most accepted date for emergence of historical Israelites (1194).
  • Early Israelite were not monotheistic (1195).
    • WOrshipped Yahweh, Asherah, etc.
  • Prophets in the Hebrew Bible reflect a sect of religion in ancient Israel; they are not representative and did not necessarily have a large following (1191).
  • “The history and religion of Israel are not one and the smae. Nor are they what is represented in the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly in the Primary History, a historically late, redacted composite that presents the diverse religious and hisotrical perspectives of its several layers of editors.” (1198).

For myself, this is a good general overview: Koch, Klaus, “Baal/Baalat”, in: Religion Past and Present. Consulted online on 10 April 2017 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1877-5888_rpp_SIM_01382&gt;