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.



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.


“A History of Biblical Israel” by Ernst Axel Knauf and Philippe Guillaume

Ernst Axel Knauf and Philippe Guillaume. A History of Biblical Israel: The fate of the tribe and kingdoms from Merenptah to Bar Kochba. Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing, 2016, pp. 266.

Grappling with and reconstructing a history of ancient Israel and Judah is a particularly difficult task. The data is challenging to work through due to things like the scarcity of relevant inscriptions and the redaction of biblical traditions and literature. Knauf and Guillaume, though, attempt such a reconstruction. They do so by framing the history within a timespan: Merenptah to Bar Kochba. Thus, they reconstruct a history between c. 1208 BCE and 136 CE. Guillaume and Knauf break up the timeframe by dividing it into three segments: pre-history of biblical Israel, formation of biblical Israel in the Persian period, and fragmentation of biblical Israel (Hellenistic and Roman periods).

Furthermore, Knauf and Guillaume continue by defining terminology for significant words: Israel (covers realities from various time periods), history, and history of Israel. On the point of history, they offer a helpful introduction to how the discipline of history can function. To explain one aspect of it, they choose for focus on conjonctures, “a French word meaning circumstances used mainly in economics” (4). So, in their reconstruction of ancient Israel, one major focus is the wave of circumstances especially in relation to the resources and wealth of the region. Additionally, regarding history of Israel, Guillaume and Knauf are careful to note the issue of bias with primary texts, whether the Hebrew Bible or Babylonian Chronicles. Consequently, they choose to position themselves between minimalists and maximalists. This positioning, though, does not offer a method for delineating between what may be a more accurate representation of the past and what may be narrative flourishes written by the texts editors.

Guillaume and Knauf then define four more notions: time (especially chronology); space (i.e. topography, altitude, geography, etc.); peasants, urbanites, and nomads (dependent on the conjoncture, time, and space); toponyms; and epochs/conjonctures. Regarding the fifth notion, the periods tended to be constructed by the elite class and do “not reflect socio-political phenomena, which are characterized by continuity rather than by clear-cut period” (22). As a solution, they suggest organizing history into century categories, each reflecting about a 100 year period. For Israel, 796 BCE – 734 BCE is a “short” eight century, while 734 BCE – 609 BC is a “long” seventh century. This way to categorize periods, though, is somewhat convoluted. It lacks explanation and does not offer further evidence for why such categorization is valuable. Additionally, they choose to place Israel’s history within the “macron-history of the Mediterranean systems through  braudel’s economic conjonctures” (23). In other words, they utilize trade and economy within the Mediterranean world in order to draw on the conjonctures of each period. This is one of the strongest points of the method, namely utilizing economic patterns throughout the Mediterranean as a broader economic framework for the history of Israel.

In Chapter One, Knauf and Guillaume argues that ancient Israel emerged in a context of shasu and ‘apiru who began to display more formal clan organization. With the climate change in the LB Age, a power vacuum enabled various tribal units to form, such as the Philistines. Furthermore, they suggest that the cultural memory of Exodus may be derived from a tendency of Canaanite groups to be captured on Egyptian “slave-hunting” expedition or to migrates to Egypt in times of famine. Chapter Two works through the rise of proto-Israelite tribes. After offering a theoretical approach that “rural and urban populations adapted to economic and politic changes by alternating between one mode and the other” (43), namely between more nomads and urban. They support this theory by considering the small tribes in Palestine in context of the Pax Aegytptiaca, in which economic development of the region was encouraged through trade networks with Egypt. They further attempt to figure out from where various tribes may have emerged; however, this portion lacks substantive arguments and is highly conjectural. Finally, they offer some thoughts on the religious background of Israel.

Chapter Three situates the successful rise of Saul and state formation in the copper production and trade routes of Midean, Edom, and various other iron or copper centers. Although highly conjectural and only based on possible correlation between biblical texts and the ‘Arabah copper mines, they claim that Saul’s son, Eshbaal, was the one who expanded the wealth and power of the tribe of Benjamin. This entire argument, though, is based on a particular reading Samuel. It lacks any real argument of substance. David, father of the tribal state of Judah, may have attempted to destabilize Saul’s rule. Uprisings by Absolom illustrate the fragility of David’s rule, though. For the remainder of the chapter, Knauf and Guillaume work through the biblical representation of Solomon, Jereboam I, the revival of Egyptian influence, and religion and literature of the period. Again, though, the use of the Hebrew Bible is problematic. Many references to it seems to function more as a way to support a pre-constructed thesis. This goes back to an earlier point that the book lacks any sort of method, or actual examples, or working critical through texts in the Hebrew Bible.

Chapter Four considers the consolidation of Levantine kingdoms as a consequence of shifting economic and power structures. Judah, Knauf and Guillaume suggest, was drawn into  the “revival of Mediterranean trade” through peace with Israel and marriage to the daughter of an Aramean (possibly) king, namely Omri. Omri vied for power via a military coup. Now in power, Assyrians considered Omri to be the founder of the kingdom of Israel. Within this dynasty, the Omrides may have placed the Canaanites into forced labour (Judges 1:27-28). Throughout Chapter Four, they outline the victories of losses of various leaders up to Jereboam II. Notably, Hazael is given a special place in the chapter for how he shook off the Assyrian hold. Finally, they review religion in the 9th century BCE, religious expansion by Jereboam II, and religion in the 8th century BCE. Like previous chapters, there are many interesting tidbits; however, for the most part, the writing in convoluted, difficult to follow, and does not thoroughly engage with the primary source material. If one is to be between a minimalist and maximalist, one must also explain how to decide what reflects the past and what does not.

Chapter Five highlights the climax as Judah and it ideology in Deuteronomistic literature by considering the integration of Judah and Israel into the Neo-Assyrian empire. Contextually, Phoenician  trade between Tyre and Sidon decreased, while Philistine trade increase. Consequently, Judah strengthened, while Israel declined. They further detail the how the Neo-Assyrian military functioned and how the military incorporated Israel and Judah into the empire. Finally, they outline important religious developments and literature in the late 8th and early 7th century. While the history reconstructed is helpful, there are many claims which are not substantiated. For example, Knauf and Guillaume use Ps. 82 as evidence that Yahweh was replacing Ashur as the highest deity; however, Ps. 82 references El, not Ashur. In other words, they use a support text without explaining why it supports their point. Likewise, they suggest that Manasseh’s shedding of innocent blood may “reflect the suppression of an opposition group that held the kind of anti-Assyrian ideas that inspired the… politics of the last kings of Judah” (120). While this may be the case, they offer no convincing  explanation for how or why this may be the case, save for the Chroniclers revision of Manasseh. In short, they often reference the Hebrew Bible; however, there tends too be little to no critical discussion of the texts.

Chapter Six discuses Judah during the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He focuses on the three deportations of the elite from Judah to Babylon. From these deportations, he suggests that they produced four rivaling Judean groups: an ultra-conservative group focused on the absence of Yahweh (Ezekiel in Babylon), a group focused on the legitimacy of the Davidic dynasty (Books of Samuel-Kings), the prophet-poetic tradition (Second-Isaiah), and the Jeremiah group which remained in Yehud (Jeremiah). The traditions from each of these groups “reflect the controversy over the correct policy under Babylonian rule regarding the concrete political demands of the Judean elite towards their Babylonian overlords” (141). This division is a valuable division of traditions. Thus, it is helpful for making sense of how the Judean population dealt with the new rule of the Neo-Babylonians. Chapter Six is, I think, one of the stronger chapters in the work. It offers the most thorough discussion of texts and draws from a variety of textual records.

Chapter Seven focuses on how the shift to the Persian Empire impacted Judean identity. The religious conflict which occurred during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonidus, they argue, contributed to the movement towards monotheism. This was further reinforced by Cyrus’ capture of Babylon. Whether worshippers of Marduk, Sin, Ahuramazda, or Yahweh, they construct a history in which a supreme deity is becoming the norm. Between 582-525 BCE, Judean population decreased, they argue, because commerce shifted away from the Philistine controlled coast. Thus, many people migrated in order to find more favorable economies. Although a diverse group ideologically, Knauf and Guillaume suggest that Cyrus’ capture of Babylon may have reinforced the idea that Marduk and Ahuramazda “were other names for YHWH” (155). While one may claim that those were names for deities below YHWH, it seems far-fetched to claim that they were other names for Yahweh. Following, working through the period in which Jerusalem exiles returned to Yehud, they suggest that the re-establishment of Jerusalem may have been a strategic move. This move would enable the Persians to defend the Palestinian land bridge. This movement enabled Darius I to organizes the Persian Empire. This government, religious, and social organization is briefly explored in relation to the broader historical conjoncutres and Yehud. One difficult with Chapter Seven was clarity. The majority of it is convoluted. And it is oftentimes difficult to follow a single train of thought or logic.

Chapter Eight works through how conditions in the Persian Empire and Yehud may have given rise to an identity based on biblical Israel. Drawing primarily from Ezra-Nehemiah, Knauf and Guillaume reconstruct the conflict between Nehemiah and other groups. They are careful to note that the importance of these conflicts should not be exaggerated. Based on the social unrest represented in Nehemiah, they suggest that the Persian Empire may have desired returnees to Yehud in order to strengthen the economy. By strengthening the economy, the region would be enabled to supply Persian troops moving towards Egypt. This would only occur through increased manpower, which would come from the elite returnees. South of Yehud, the colony at Elephantine exemplifies the similarities and differences as Judean immigrants. In an awkward shift, they discuss the economic and political situations of Arabia and Idumea. Returning to Yehud, they offer a brief overview of the conflict between Samaria and Yehud, a conflict which reinforced an identity as biblical Israel. Regarding Ezra, they claim that the Torah, a collection of traditional material, was (1) serving to legitimate every Jew across the empire and (2) endorsed by the Persian administration as a sort of “Imperial Religious Police Department.” While point two is valuable, I doubt that the Torah necessarily legitimated every Jew. After all, to what extent can we view Ezra as an accurate representation of the past? Following, Knauf and Guillaume briefly illustrates how Torah’s demand for sacrifice served to strengthen Judean identity, both in terms of ritual practice and language. It seems, though, like they assume that all Torah traditions are rooted in the Persian period, which is not necessarily true. Their discussion of the role of Torah in forming Judean identity is, I think, almost too convenient and also convoluted. Finally, the discuss the other literary developments, the legacy of Bethel, and the newfound rule of Alexander. This chapter, like others, is often time convoluted. It is not always clear what Knauf and Guillaume are trying to do or where they are trying to take the reader.

Part III conclude works from the Ptolemaic administration in Alexandria, Egypt until the end of the Bar Kochba revolt. Chapter 9 briefly describes how Greek rulers only permitted Jerusalemite elite to act as tax collectors. Then, it briefly describes the various Hellenistic biblical texts. Chapter 10 outlines how Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire permitted more autonomy to Yehud and how books like Tobit and the Books of Sirach exemplify Hellenistic influence upon Judeans. Based upon this autonomy granted to Yehud, they construct a history of the Maccabean revolt as a type of Jewish civil war. After the Seleucid empire collapsed, John Hyrcanus, Aristobulus I, and Salome Alexandra led the new nation of Judah. Throughout Chapter 10, though, Knauf and Guillaume offer a few places where a book “may” have been composed (i.e. Maccabees in the court of John Hyrcanus, Esther during the reign of Queen Salome, etc.). These possibilities, though, are not substantiated. Less conjectural thoughts and more substantial arguments would strengthen this chapter. Finally, Chapter 11 outlines the social, political, and economic conditions which led to the eventual rebellions and formation of Rabbinic Judaism.

As a text attempting to reconstruct a history, I had one major issue: it never attempts to offer a critical readings of the multitude of texts from which it draws. Particularly with regard to biblical texts, Knauf and Guillaume rarely took the time to work through the text which purportedly supported, or contributed to, their construction of history. Time and time again, they reference biblical texts without any discussion of the particular text. For example, they suggest that Marduk makes a veilded appearance in Gen 1:1-8 via the appearance of Tehom (Tiamat) (p. 148). Whether or not tehom references Tiamat, though, is not conclusive or agreed upon within scholarship. In other words, they utilize the text without approaching it critically.

Additionally, the book was somewhat convoluted. While the flow of some arguments was sometimes clear, it was sometimes difficult to follow the logic of the text. For example, Section 8.3 (p. 177-78) discusses the role of the Elephantine colony. In particular, the difference between biblical social standards and those of Elephantine is being addressed. Section 8.4 (p. 178), though, suddenly shifts to the impact of the Egyptian rebellion upon Persian rule in Arabia. The lack of continuity between 8.3 and 8.4 is obvious, as the ideas fail to connect in any logical way. This problem occurs consistently throughout the work. As a result, it is very difficult to understand what they are trying express.

On a more positive note, I did appreciate how they approach their reconstruction with particular regard to the conjonctures. Were the book primarily concerned with that, I may have enjoyed it more. Unfortunately, its aims and scope may have been too broad for its own good.

In conclusion, I do not recommend this book for research purposes. As an introduction, I tentatively recommend it. As a basic outline of ancient Israelite history and development of religious thought, there are some little tidbits which are valuable. For the most part, though, it is intertwined with unsupported claims and uncritically examined ideas. Thus, an inexperienced reader may fail to recognize the differences between substantiated claims and conjectures with no support.

UPDATE (6/26/2017): I forgot to mention one important detail. Throughout the book, Knauf and Guillaume make reference to various images, iconography. They fail, though, to engage with the iconography as things which need to be interpreted. Just as the Hebrew Bible requires a interpretation, so do the image from the ancient world. Thus, discussion of iconography would have strengthened their arguments.

“Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Constructs of Masculinity” edited by Ilona Zsolnay

As the title state, this volume explores constructs of masculinity from a variety of regions and time periods in the ancient world. In light of the notion of evolving ideal masculine paradigms, an attempt is made to negotiate the “various ancient attitudes towards, and guidelines for, being a man” (5). It covers a wide range of materials, including, though not limited to, Sumerian literature, Indian literature, and 19th century Gothic imagination. Proceeding, I will offer a succinct summary of each chapter. Then, I will offer my criticism of the particular chapter.

In Chapter One, Ilona Zsolnay and Joan Goodnick Westenholz investigate Sumerian texts in order to survey the basic categories of males (assigned roles). A through analysis illustrates how “Sumerian constructions of masculinity are rooted in class distinctions and societally understood age parameters” (30). They also shed important light on the lexemes nita, Lu{2}, and sag. Thus, this article offers a valuable framework for future studies engaging in the topic of masculinity, or gender more broadly, in the ancient world. In the coming years, I look forward to seeing how people engage with this article and more thoroughly develop the categorization of men and masculinity in Sumer.

Julian Assante identifies overtones of sexuality in Assyrian iconography. She argues that “By looking at pictures that glorified the Assyrian male body and degrated the non-Assyrian body, that ranked and genderdered masculinities and that around and sublimated homosexual desire, all men of whatever rank participated in the maintainance of hierarchical tensiona nd the paradigm of penetrator and penetrated on which the imperial state was built” (74). Notably, it is clear that sexuality was important to Assyrians. Likewise, the question of penetrator vs. penetrated is important to consider. However, Assante’s conclusions quite speculative and not well substantiated. For example, she says at one point that “although we know virtually nothing concrete about the sexual tastes and habits of Assyrian kings… it might be said with some certainty that a king could “take” a eunuch if he wanted to without compromising his reputation for superlative manhood” (68). She bases this on the fact that eunuchs often worked with the harem of women. Yet, this is nothing more than speculation, and should be presented as such. Likewise, she seems to disregard time itself: “Given the eunuch’s dualistic attributes of warriro bedmate from Islamic period, it is left to the imagination what sexual roles eunuchs actually played in Assyrian campaigns” (73). The amount of time between the Islamic period and Assyrian campaigns is far too much to even “imagine.” And the call to compare eunuch’s during an Assyrian campaign with those during the Islamic period is simply sloppy. In short, the ideas in this contribution have potential; however, it is requires more thorough and reasonable arguments.

Mary R. Bachvarova explores Hittite constructions of masculinity for kings in the Late Bronze Age. Her analysis of various documents point to three major characteristics for a good, Hittite man: “”sexual restraint; curbing greed… and mutual care and loyalty across generations” (102).  Overall, her arguments are well-laid out and offer valuable insight into Hittite constructions of masculinity. One place, though, deserves mentions. While discussing Kumarbi’s response to looking at cliffs, and consequently sleeping with them, She notes that the rock is usually treated as female. Iconography, though, depicts the rock as male. The claim, though, should be expanded upon as regards the relationship between iconography and text. For, iconography and text are entirely different mediums. They must be treated as such, even when using one or the other to explain another. Nonetheless, the contribution is a wonderful example of how ancient societies constructed masculinity.

J.S. Cooper examines moments where masculinity is called into question, with particular focus on the deity Ishtar. In particular, he engages with the idealized masculinity, as opposed to “valorized modes of male behaviour” (112). Through his analysis, Cooper locates a rubric of mature vs. immature. With this rubric drawn from the texts, he concludes that ideal masculinity is to be a competent warrior. For this reason, Ishtar was not problematic for ancient Near Eastern religion(s) and culture. Like other contributions, Cooper’s article will be helpful for moving forward in attempting to understand masculinity in Near Eastern society.

Simon Brodbeck, a well known scholar of Indian literature, maps masculinities within the Ramayana and Mahabharata. First, he discusses how the Ramayana and Mahabharata are sometimes explicitly concerned with constructions of masculinity. Through both texts, the audience/reader is invited into the narrative as it navigates masculinities. Second, Brodbeck discusses the masculine construction of the Ksatriya. This model, though, is often times subverted by other problems and characters. Finally, he suggests that the texts sometimes merge the Brahmin and ksatriya masculinities into a new category of masculinity. Regarding this contribution, the most I can say is that it was interesting. As I study nothing related to Brodbeck’s field, I can’t offer any comments.

Ann Guinan and Peter Morris use Queer Theory interpretative strategies to “connect the dots… between the seemingly isolated but charged Mesopotamian texts” (151). Most notably, they attempt to offer insight into the structure of MAL 19-20. They do so in order to uncover the logic progression from one to the next. They further compare Omen 13 with Gilgamesh. Eventually, they conclude “an inexorable, almost geometric logic governs Mesopotamian imaginings of sex between male social equals” (168). While this may be argued, the texts from which they draw from are too few to make such a broad claim. The idea is great; however, it need substantial development in terms of evidence and tying together the various texts.

Through narrative of 2 Samuel 10:1-5 and the notion of hegemonic masculinities, Hilary Lipka outlines some relative, subordinate, and marginalized masculinities within biblical texts. This piece is important because it offers a model for other biblical scholars who focus on issues and questions of masculinities in the Hebrew Bible.

Marc Brettler first examines the words pairs ‘ish and ‘ishshah, zakar and neqebah. For Brettler, the former is gender and the latter is sex. In other words, biblical Israel saw, to a certain extent, a distinction between sex and gender, though it did not see many options between the two. While this is an interesting thought, I would appreciate further discussion of the passages throughout the Hebrew Bible. For the context in various places may impact how we understand the functions of ish/ishshah and zakar/neqebah. In light of this, Brettler argues that David Cline’s previous study of gender in the Psalms does not provide sufficient evidence to claim that Psalms is a male book. Further, Clines does not distinguish between sex and gender. So, Brettler complicates and nuances our understanding of Psalms and gender by exploring a variety of Psalms individual. He concludes that Psalms may be composed by one gender and used by another, and gendered language may have been accentuated or deemphasized as individual psalms were reworked. His consideration of gender leads to the suggestion that earlier Psalms are more focused on the “male” or “man”, while later Psalms bring in women from the periphery.

By far, this is one of the best contributions to the volume.

Martti Nissinen explores varying constructs of masculinity through the concept of relative masculinities. He argues that different finds of masculinity are appreciated in different ways in a variety of texts. Viewing masculinity as relational and constructed from ideal masculinities, he considers the spectrum from four perspectives: sexuality, body, empire, and religion. In terms of sexuality, namely physical sexual activity or lack thereof, Nissinen offers three examples in which masculinities are relative to the particular literary and historical context: prohibition of male-to-male penetration in a cult context (Leviticus 20:10-26), male-to male intimacy in a kingship ideology (David and Jonathan), and Jeremiah in a prophetic context. In terms of body, namely the physical appearance of a man, Nissinen selects eunuchs as a case study. He offers four varieties of eunuchs “as queering figures who challenge stable gender identities and transgress fixed gender categories” (228). Each example illustrates how eunuchs challenge gender identity in different ways. Third, Nissinen compares the Mesopotamian sha reshi to saris in the HB. He does so in order to show that eunuchs may have maintained authority and power within an empire context. Finally, Nissinen considers the possible relative masculinity of the qedeshim. Acknowledging that the qedeshim are represented in Deuteronomistic texts as male practitioners with of homoeroticism, he offers this as a possible example of a relative masculinity with the margins of ancient Judaen cultural memory. In short, Nissinen’s analysis is valuable in that it recognizes the diversity of how the Hebrew Bible represents marginalized and relative masculinities. Such considerations are essential, as we often times get stuck in viewing the HB as a single book rather than a compilation of various ancient texts and traditions.

Steven W. Holloway traces the reception of Gen. 6:1-4. He does so by examining its reception through four poets and artistic representation. He explores how the aforementioned attempt to engage with the performance of masculinity. While I found the contribution intriguing, it was far too much out of my zone of research to be able to offer any comments.

In summary, this volume is a mix bag. A few of the contributions are priceless. These may very well impact approaches to Near Eastern literature and Hebrew Bible (Brettler, Nissinen, Westenholz, etc.). Some contributions, though, contained good ideas without enough substance or support (Morris, Assante). The volume is a great addition for a library; however, I would not recommend it in ones person library. The material has such a disciplinary and historical range that it will only be helpful to a certain extent. For instance, while Brodbeck’s contribution on the Mahabharata was interesting, it is worlds away from Sumerology, Assyriology, and Biblical Studies. Likewise, I found Holloways contribution intriguing, but reception of biblical texts into the modern period is a very different ballgame than the rest of the contributions.

In short, I appreciated a few of the contributions; however, there was far too much range of material within the volume. It would be more helpful if the range of material were a little bit more focused.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.


Psalm 1: Translation and Notes

This is part of an ongoing series of posts in which I am offering translations and notes of particular Psalms. I am doing this to prepare for my Psalms final. I did not divide this verse by standard versification (the way the verses are divided in the Hebrew Bible). Instead, I used an outline so that I could illustrate the structure of the Psalm more clearly.

  1. Blessed is the man [1] who
    1. Does not walk in the council of the wicked
    2. And on the path of the sinners he does not stand
    3. And in the dwelling of the scoffers he does not dwell [2]
    4. But rather [3]
    5. In the law of Yahweh he delights
    6. And on his law he meditates continually. [4]
      1. So, he is like a tree transplanted onto channels of water which
        1. its fruit it gives in season
        2. And its leaves do not wither [5]
          1. And all that he does will prosper [6]
          2. Not so the wicked [7]
          3. But rather [8]
        3. Like chaff which is blown in the wind [9]
      2. For that reason [10]
    7.  They will not be vindicated, the wicked, in judgement
    8. And {they will not stand}, the sinners, in the council of the righteous. [11]

a. For Yahweh takes care of the path of the righteous and the paths of the wicked perish. [12]

[1] This phrase is potentially problematic. The word for here is אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי. It is a Masculine Plural Noun in the construct form. This means that it is directly connected to the following word. As a rule of thumb, we can insert the word “of” between the construct noun and the following noun. So, “blessings of the man” would be a more literal translation. Throughout the Psalms, and other texts, this word אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי seems to function as a sort of claim. So, “blessed is the man” = “the blessings of the man.”

[2] 1.1-3 serve to define what the blessed man does not do. The word “who” (BH אֲשֶׁ֤ר) begins this by marking the beginning of a series of subordinate clauses. This means that 1.1-3 are not complete sentences; rather, they serve to define the parameters of the phrase “blessed is the man.” Notably, each thing used to define what a blessed man does not do is very similar. In 1.1, we see the following structure: a negative particle (namely, not) + verb + location in construct with a preposition + masculine plural noun (to represent people groups). 1.2 and 1.3 use the same elements; however, they re-order the sentence structure: location in construct with a preposition +masculine plural noun + a negative particle + verb. Because 1.1-3 are so similar in structure and all use the same preposition (a bet), they are best understood as one unit. This unit serves to define what the blessed man does not do.

[3] The short phrase כִּ֤י אִ֥ם serves to transition into the next set of parameters for the blessed man. As with most particles, prepositions, or conjunctions, it may mean a wide variety of things. I am taking it as a way of marking the transition into something else. This new thing being introduced is meant to be distinct from 1.1-3. So, I translate “but rather.”

[4] 1.5-6 describes what a blessed man does. Like 1.1-3, it uses the same preposition bet. By doing so, it links itself to 1.1-3. With the conjunction, though, we know that it is a contrast to what 1.1-3 describes. Furthermore, 1.5-6 continue the same sentence structure found in 1.1-3; however, there is now no negative particle. Thus, whereas 1.1-3 were what the blessed man does not do, 1.5-6 is what the blessed me does do.

Because 1.1-3 and 1.5-6 are so closely linked in terms of sentence structure and the preposition which they use, they should be read as a unit. Recall, though, that I argued in note [2] that 1.1-3 are a unit. In light of 1.5-6, 1.1-3 are still a unit, albeit a sub-unit. 1.5-6 is, likewise, a sub-unit. These two sub-units operates in conjunction (together) to present a full picture of what a blessed man does.

Notably, though, this consistent structure is broken by two slightly different elements. First, we see in 1.6 a different verb form. 1.1-5 use QATAL (Perfect) verb forms. 1.6 shifts to a YIQTOL (Imperfect) form. Second, vs. 6 has the additional words “day and night” (יוֹמָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה). I translated these as “continually” because it seems to be what the text is trying to express. The addition of “continually” breaks the sentence (syntactical) pattern which I noted in [2]. For these reason, namely the breaking of a pattern from 1.1-1.6, the minor shifts and changes in 1.6 may serve to say to the reader, “Hey! Things are about to change. I’ve some new ideas to talk about, so I’ll prepare you with a minor shift in pattern of the text.”

[5] 1.6.1 is the shift which I mentioned in [4]. Rather than continuing with more parameters about how a man is to blessed, 1.6.1 uses a metaphor. It compares 1 and 1.1-6 to being planted by channels of water., then, serve to specify the parameters of a tree planted by water. It (1) gives fruit in season and (2) does not whither. This is imagery is important because it is what allow life to thrive. One can have water. Without food, though, one is unable to survive. This imagery, then, metaphorically describes the blessed man as one who enables others do survive. A tree transplanted by water will be (1) thrive as an individual tree and (2) sustain the life of other animals and people.

The extent to which one blessed man may impact the environment positively is not too surprising. In an early post, I spoke about how miscarriage of justice could make the foundations of the earth totter. There was a correlation between ethical behavior and creation. Thus, we see in Psalm 1 a similar idea at play. The blessed man is not merely an ethical man who avoids the wicked and studies the law of God as an entity autonomous from everything else. Rather, his being blessed is correlated to creation. He doesn’t necessarily cause creation to prosper; however, the Psalmist does correlate the provisions of nature and wildlife to the ethical behavior of man.


The Dan River in Israel

[6] is not entirely clear. The verb for “to do” is not clearly referring to a particular thing. Likewise, the verb for “to be caused to prosper” has no clear subject. Up till this point, though, the only present character is the blessed man and the wicked ones. Because the two verbs in are a 3MS forms, it is best to understand the subject as being the blessed man from 1.

Another interesting feature of this metaphor is the use of verbs. Recall in note [4] that 1.6 was the first occurrence of a YIQTOL verb form. In the metaphor, the only verbal form used is a YIQTOL form (except for one WǝQATAL which functions like a YIQTOL). The implication is that this metaphor is durative. Consequently, the blessed man is thought to be this way unceasingly. At no point in the imagination of this Psalm does the blessed man cease being like a tree.

Furthermore, the use of YIQTOL forms in this metaphor emphasizes it as a particular unit. The end of the first unit, 1.1-6, offers a transition into this new unit of the tree metaphor.

[7] shifts directions, yet again. Whereas previously the Psalm focused on the metaphor of the righteous man, it draws a contrast with the wicked ones.

[8] Until this point, “but rather” has only occurred once as a way of describing what the blessed do. By re-using “but rather” in context of the wicked ones, the reader now expects to see a contrast between what the blessed to and what the righteous do, or are like.

[9] The contrast derived from the phrase כִּ֥י אִם strongly contrasts the imagery of a healthy, fruit-giving tree. The notion of being “chaff” blown in the wind implies absolute lack of value. When gathering grain, the chaff is, quite literally, blowing away in the wind. They do this because it serve no value. It does not contribute to the sustaining people. Additionally, the tree is said to “give.” In, the verb establishes the tree as the agent of giving. In, the chaff has no agency in the action. Thus, the role of chaff is less significant in the sentence. Whereas the tree is an acting agent, the chaff is only acted upon.

[10] “For that reason” serves as another transition to describing the nature of the wicked. Notably, there are two conjunctions which introduce the wicked: לֹא־כֵ֥ן (lo’ ken) and עַל־כֵּ֤ן (‘al ken). These two conjunctions are strikingly similar in terms of how they sound (lo vs. al). Because of this similarities, the Psalmist may be attempting to tie these two phrases together into a larger unit.

[11] 1.7-8 reflect 1.1-6. Whereas 1.1-6 demonstrates what a blessed man did and did not do, 1.7-8 reflects what a wicked man will not do, namely stand in judgement. The notion of “standing in judgement” may have to do with what I wrote about regarding Psalm 82. If one is standing in judgement, their honor has been, to a certain extent, restored. If the wicked will not stand in judgment, their honor will not be restored. Consequently, 1.8 acknowledges that they will not stand among the righteous. For the righteous will have their honor restored.

This imagery of “the righteous, a MP N, reflects well 1.1-6. In 1.1-6, the wicked ones, a MP N, are juxtaposed to the blessed man. Now, the wicked ones are juxtaposed to the righteous ones.

Furthermore, the reason I placed “will not stand” in {} is because it not actually in the text at this point. This is what Greenstein refers to as “deep structure.” Grammatically, it should be translated “and the sinners in the council of the righteous.” As cognitively aware readers, though, our minds fill in the place where we expect a verb. Because 1.7 contains the verb, the mind fills in the blank.

Finally, the description of the wicked, including the metaphor has more brevity than the blessed man. This is important because it further demonstrates that the focus of the Psalm is the blessed man. Even though a stark contrast is being drawn between the wicked and the righteous, the focus is ultimately the righteous.

[12] a serves as the summation of Psalm 1. Before explaining a, though, note the structure of Psalm 1. Here is a small, easy version:

  1. Ways of the blessed are described.
    1. Ways of the blessed are described metaphorically.
      1. Conclude the ways of the blessed.
      2. Shift to the ways of the wicked.
    2. Ways of the wicked are described metaphorically.
  2. Ways of the wicked are described.

Each number 1 reflects the same type of description in 2. The only different is that one describes the blessed, while the other describes the wicked. This structure is what is called a chiasmus. The chiasm allows us to see a stark contrast between the wicked and blessed not just in terms of the specific words used, but in the places where they are employed. The summary is a. picks up on this by summarizing the entire Psalm in terms of the the way of the righteous as opposed to the way of the wicked. One major addition occurs here, though.

This is the only place in the Psalm where Yahweh becomes the agent of the verb. Although Yahweh appears as a figures to describe the “Law of Yahweh”, he was not the subject for a verb. As the subject a verb, Yahweh is said to “care for” (lit. “know”). I take this verb “to know” as a way of expressing how the divine watches over the blessed.

In contrast, the path of the wicked may be taken in two ways. First, the “path” could be a collective notions of “paths.” This is possible because the wicked don’t all act wicked in the same way. Thus, “path” could be understood as a plural. Furthermore, although “path” is typically understood as a masculine noun, it shows up a feminine noun. In light of these two observations, it is possibly that the subject of “to perish” is the paths themselves. So, we would translate, “and the paths of the wicked perish” (taking תֹּאבֵֽד in a stative sense). Alternatively, Yahweh could be the subject. In this case, the verb “to perish” should be taking as a 2MS, with Yahweh acting as the subject: “the paths of the wicked you, Yahweh, cause to perish.”

The alternative is less likely for two reasons. First of all, I am hesitant to give a Q form a causative meaning unless absolutely necessary. The other option, with “path” as the subject, demonstrates that using the verb as a causitive Qal is not necessary. Second, Yahweh as the subject is odd in the structure of a. Like any good syntax, the first part of a. reads as a verb followed by the subject. Thus, the subject, namely Yahweh, “knows.” The syntax clearly correlates the two. There is no reason, though, to correlate Yahweh with “perish.” Structurally and grammatically, it makes more sense for the subject of “to perish” to be “paths” (lit. path).

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