Brief Update: Courses

For those of you who read my blog posts, I figured I’d post a brief update.

I just started Fall Quarter. Coursework is Attic Greek, Intermediate Hebrew, and Intermediate Akkadian. Attic Greek is elementary. So, there is nothing particularly unique. Intermediate Hebrew is “Biblical Hebrew boot camp.” It includes 3 days per week of working through various texts in class, 1 day of historical grammar, and 1 day of rapid reading. In Intermediate Akkadian, we are reading Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian letters. I’m a little nervous. Even so, I look forward to it.

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“From Adapa to Enoch” by Seth Sanders

Seth Sanders. From Adapa to Enoch. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 167. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2017, 280 pp..

Summary: 

From Adapa to Enoch places the scribal cultures of Judah and Babylon into dialogue, focusing both on their distinctive elements and their shared Aramaic culture. So, he begins by offering an over of the seminal studies of scribal culture by Carr, Van der Toorn, and Milstein. He contends that these major studies do not capitalize on dated cuneiform literature. Such literature shows not only how literary texts were edited, “but for what their editors and users thought about their material, evidence for how they were used and what they meant to people” (p. 10). Following, Sanders illustrates how Heinrich Zimmern’s claim about the importance of Enmeduranki for Enoch is not based in comparison of the two texts. Zimmern’s conclusions, though, are still a staple of how people tend to construe Judean and Babylonian scribal cultures. So, noting the development in how we have come to understand Babylonian apocalyptic thought, provides his base claim: he argues for a Judean scribal culture of reinvention and a Babylonian scribal culture of continuity, and how comparison of these scribal cultures help “illuminate the historically specific creativity of each culture” (23).

Chapter One begins by freshly analyzing “the Mesopotamian evidence on ascent to heaven from the earliest to latest sources, placing both texts and images in historical context” (27). These figures he analyzes are Etana, Dumuzi, and Adapa. Of these three, Dumuzi, he concludes, is relatively insignificant. Similarly, Etana is am important figure; however, literary and culture value of Etana fades after the OB period. Adapa, though, thrives and changes from OB Sumerian texts to Seleucid texts. Such developments occur within a variety of historical contexts. Notably, the texts upon which he draw are not only literary texts; rather, they include ritual and historical texts. So, Sander’s analysis is particularly strong because it draws on a variety of genres. Based on this evidence, he offers an outline of how ancient traditions were developed and transformed into new genres by scribes. Succinctly put, the figure of Adapa began as an ideal moderl for ritual performance/exorcism in the OB period, and he developed into the an important figure for scribal families by the Hellenistic period.

Expanding on the issue of how sages and scribes could claim to have “been” Adapa, Chapter Two explores ancient scribal ontology and epistemology. It considers how scribes/scholars defined themselves in relation to the cosmos. Notably, he comments on European metaphysical assumptions: “To understand Mesopotamian ritual attitudes it will help to bracket European metaphysical assumptions about supernatural presence, and instead attend more precisely to the claims of Mesopotamian texts using the tools of linguistics and anthropology”(72). So, starting with Adapa as a phenomenological starting point in exorcist ritual, he notes that the figure Adapa is donned as a ritual mask. Because this 2,000-year-old idea is evidence for how Mesopotamians talked about themselves, Sanders engages with it. For, in doing so, “it is possible to detail the positions that a ritual participant took in interacting with tradition, and the sense of his place in the cosmos from which the participant spoke and acted in religious contexts” (74). And the question being asked is of divine presence. Consequently, he briefly notes that the tangibility of divine presence (or lack thereof) is our own problem. Ancient scribal ontology was more semiotic. On this basis, (1) the phrase “I am Adapa” by exorcists in Etukū Lemnūtu and (2) the physicality of essence (ME; melammu) indicate the ‘mask’ of Adapa expressed a real, physical essence. By wearing this mask, the exorcist was anabled to animate the principle. He spoke, then, with the principals power and authority without being responsible for the words.

To address how the exorcist met with the divine assembly in the ritual framework, he exames the formula mannam lušpur (“Whom shall I send?”). In an OB incantation, it closes the divide between the divine helper and victim. Yet, when re-arranged in the 1st millenium Maqlû ritual, the exorcist becomes the one who speaks “in a role of divine knowledge and power such that he can elicit cosmic judgement against this evil force and set the universe back in order” (89). Sanders then relates this back to the issue of the divine assembly. Similar to how an exorcist bears a mask in order to suppress his authorship, a divine invites the council to earth. Subsequently, he acts as the judge, even though authority is diverted to Šamaš/Adad.

From a historical angle, this personae was carried by the king; however, scribes assumed the prerogative after native kingship fell. So, scribes became the new royalty with regard to the location of the divine assembly. Sanders notes that divination texts only place such assembly in the proximity of the person doing divination. This, though, is the norm: most divine assemblies meet in Nippur or Babylon. So, by recognizing Mesopotamian ontology and how the universe was structured linguistically, Sanders note two major historical shifts regarding the figure of Adapa. First, while Adapa is first understood as a kingly figure, he comes to be understood as a scribal figure after the fall of native kingship. Second, the theme of ascent to heaven (i.e. Adapa) shifts from generic myth to more personal forms. Even with the unique historical developments, each shift still recognized the “revelation” was normal for the ritualists. A similar development is found within Judean literature during the Persian period.

Shifting from Babylon to Judah, Chapter Three examines how Judean scribes of Ezekiel created new ways of divine transmission of knowledge. This new way was divine knowledge via measurements, a consequence of the hand of the lord seizing Ezekiel. Unlike pre-exilic literature, Ezekiel is the only book to describe the process, or experience, of seeing God. The scribe, though, is careful not to talk about actually seeing God. So, by noting the development of the phrase ‘word of Yahweh’ in Jeremiah from a dramatic event to an open-quote marker (Ezekiel), Sanders suggests this shift can “provide us with a window on an emerging scribal technique, and the attitude toward divine speech it implies” (112). After re-asserting the necessity of a non-Western ontology, he argues that Ezekiel’s language itself may be a way of mediating God’s presence. He argues that this is precisely what the text is designed to do.

Having established that the ‘word of Yahweh’ is more or less not pragmatic in Ezekiel, he consider the role of “the hand of the Lord.” Of the seven appearances of the phrase, each case “is a way of talking about physical events in the world – a world that includes Ezekiel’s person but extends out from it” (123). He concludes this on the basis of the usages and medical background of the phrase qāt ili  or qāt DN “hand of a god/god X.” Notably, the final usage of the phrase ‘hand of the Lord’, Ezekiel is given a new way to transmit knowledge. Rather than communicate visions, he communicates acts of measurements, which subsequently express torah via the temple. Thus, ‘exact knowledge, transmitted through measuring, will allow the Temple and the law to be revealed to Israel” (126). Such a development is important because it represents a movement towards heavenly measurement found in later Judean literature like the Astronomical Book of Enoch, the Temple Scroll, and Songs of the Sabbath  Sacrifice. So, in short, Ezekiel mediates divine presence through numerical measurements and “the hand of the Lord.”

Having established how Ezekiel mediates the presence of Yahweh, and so a sort of early Judean science, Chapter Four shifts into how that plays out in Enoch. In particular , he focuses on how Judean science, namely systematic exact knowledge of the physical world, came to be in the Astronomical Book of Enoch. While texts like Deuteronomy reflect a key assumption of Mesopotamian astral sciences, Aramaic literature breaks with this tradition. Enoch, which is Aramaic literatures, illustrates this shift. The shift incorporates Babylonian astral sciences, where science is “a system of exact knowledge of the physical world” (137). Such a shift in Judean literature, though, has a biblical precedent. In priestly literature, Sanders notes three major division: cosmos, tabernacle, and body. In these divisions, only the tabernacle and body are framed as being revealed. So, Sander’s argues that Enoch is continuous with early priestly literature because it focuses primarily on the revelation of temple and body.

Furthermore, just like how temple and body are revealed in priestly literature, Enoch, frames the revelations with the passive of a causative verb. This indicates that mode of knowledge was based on “God revealed X.” So, revelation is equivalent to scientific knowledge in Enoch. This further suggests that Enoch stands in continuity with biblical traditions and that it should be understand as a new Judean science: revealed science.

His analyses make more evident shared things between Judean and Babylonian scribes. First, although Judeans practiced differently, both groups understood knowledge of the physical world on the basis of a cosmos made of signs. Second, the movement to associate scholars with legendary figures for both scribal cultures occurred during the 6th century BCE, with the death of native kingship around 587 and 539. So, just as Babylonian scribal culture shifted towards cosmic numbers, so did Judean scribal culture. The remaining question, though, is how Aramaic scribal culture functioned as a medium between Babylon and the southern Levant. Chapter Five seeks to answer this question.

In Chapter Five, Sanders traces the historical relation between Babylonian and Judean writers. In particular, he does this through a detailed survey of Aramaic as “a major medium of East Semitic-West Semitic exchange from the Iron Age onward” (156). Prior to analysis and implications of each piece of empirical evidence for West-Semitic adaptation of Mesopotamian texts in Judah, he notes the most evident and commonly recognized examples of textual adaptation. These texts, he notes, reframe something into a narrative. Likewise, Second Temple period Aramaic is typically numerical, which is found in Judean texts. Third, he notes points of literary adaptation between late Judean Aramaic scribes and Mesopotamian scribes.

He then shifts to the first survey of plausible instances exemplifying Mesopotamian tropes and texts adapted into West Semitic contexts. He offers 8 dateable texts which illustrate contact between people within Mesopotamian and West-Semitic contexts. These texts, he argues, indicate the spread of Mesopotamian context to West-Semitic contexts (via Aramaic) in three main channels of communication: “court chanceries, the oral performance of political and legal rituals, and the widespread use of documentary scribes” (188). Through a set of colophons in late scholarly texts, and analysis of relevant data, Sanders suggests that, amongst Aramaic scribes, Mesopotamian scholarly texts on parchment were considered valid, original literary documents. This suggests that Mesopotamian science documents were circulated on parchment by the Seleucid period. Consequently, this exemplifies a clear process by which Mesopotamian elements may have been translated from Aramaic and then into Hebrew.

This allows Sanders to make some important observations about Aramaic scribal culture. First, Aramaic literature of the Persian and Hellenistic periods celebrates a wide variety of cultures and exploits. In other words, it is more cosmopolitan than ethnic because it primarily recalls historical memories as far back as the NA and Egyptian empires. Second, the medium of Aramaic writing replaced the historically predominant medium, namely clay cuneiform. The result of these factors was the explosion of Aramaic scribal culture, which circulated freely, with no material markers of Babylonian identity. In other words, it functioned as scholarly language between Judean and Babylonian scribes.

Having clearly demonstrated the relationship between Judean, Aramaic, and Babylonian scribal cultures, Chapter Six focuses primarily on Judean scribal culture. It asks how Judean scribes expressed their values. That is to say, he examines how Judean scribes oriented themselves to the cosmos. Often times, this was expressed through ‘being god-like’. So, he applies the models of exact evidence of the world (i.e. Judean science) to early Judean literature, focusing on how Judean literary texts provided ritual models for readers and writers. In light of his previous analyses, a productive approach to texts like the Qumran “Self-Glorification Hymn” may be accomplished via tracing its historical relationship to texts with the myth of ascent. Texts like the Hadayot, Sanders notes, utilize the same strategy as Enoch: people are caused to see. So, at Qumran, one studies in order to prepare himself to receive revealed science. This divine role within the Qumran “Self-Glorification Hymn” was underwritten by two major myths. First was the adoption of Moses’ shining face, namely the transformed state of an enlightened sage which parallels the Mesopotamian notion of melammu, and of the term maskilim (from Daniel) in Qumran texts as normative. The second myth is that of light-bearing being who attempt to usurp God’s throne (found in the Epic of Baal; Is. 14:12-14; Ez. 28:6-9); however, the Qumran text reverse the myth: rather than restric proximity to Yahweh, the rhetoric suggests that it was now possible for humans to be in the proximity of God.

Subsequently, he explores how those underwritten myths reflect a broader, dualistic, and concrete understanding of the cosmos, which was essentially a form of Judean science. Notably, these interpretations of earlier myths and texts developed into institutionalized roles. Likewise, language was “part of the ontological framework by which the universe was built” (225). Such realities like divine-light only needed to be realized in religious practice.

In summary, Sanders sets out clear evidence for the relationship between Adapa and Enoch as the scribal heroes of their respective scribal communities; however, he is careful to consider how each scribal hero was unique to their culture. This idea of a scribal hero shared between Babylonian and Judean scribes was likely a result of shared Aramaic scribal culture. Furthermore, the notions of divine presence likely spread to Judean scribes via the “parchment period,” a period during which Aramaic was a primary, common means of knowledge. So, Judean scribes began to explore this issue as a result of the exile. This result in ideas which eventually culminated into a focus on specific measurements, a form of Judean, apocalyptic science. So, by the end of the 1st millennium, Judean scribes shared with Babylonian scribes the notion of a “semiotic ontology in which the universe was shaped by God in language-like ways” (235). For Judeans, this was expressed as narratives, while Babylonians expressed this via cuneiform collections.

Comments: 

Sanders work move forward scholarship about Babylonian and Judean scribal culture in a substantial way, particularly, how the geographically distinct scribal cultures exchanged ideas. Although previous scholars have commented on the role of Aramaic scribal culture, Sanders offers a thorough and convincing argument for the physical means of transmission from Babylon to Aramaic to Judean. Especially in this regard, his analyses will be a primary reference for many years to come.

Furthermore, his ability to connect major theoretical issues with philological rigor is particularly skillful. I refer to his discussion regarding divine presence. Divine presence in Judah and Mesopotamia are both illustrated thoroughly and convincingly. His model is a starting point for any future work on divine presence.

Ultimately, the book is excellent. He is thorough, rigorous, and engages with the texts and theories well. That said, there were a two minor points on which he did not capitalize. These will be brief. First, during his discussion about melammu and the mask of light, there was not reference to Shawn Zelig Aster’s Unbeatable Light (AOAT 384, 2012). To not engage with a text like that is surprising because Aster’s volume is so important.

Second, in Chapter 3 Sanders discusses the role of the “hand of the Lord” in Ezekiel. One thing which he does not capitalize on, though, is variations of the phrase. For example, in Ezekiel 39:21 says: “I set my kbwd among the nations and they shall see my judgement, which I established, and my hand, which I established among you.” It may have be productive to explore how variations of the phrase are applied to figures other than Ezekiel, something I will be doing for a presentation on Psalm 29. This, though, is not too significant of an issue.

Overall, though, Sanders’ arguments pack a punch because they are dripping in philological inquiry, solid theoretical foundation, close textual analyses, and a creative mind. I highly recommend this book to anybody doing any work in Hebrew Bible and Judean literature.

 

 

“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+)