“Chaos” in Study of Hebrew Bible

Debra Ballentine argues that “enemies defeated by the victorious warrior deities across ancient West Asian conflict traditions are not agents of “chaos” but rather agents of an alternative divine power structure” (2015, 186). In other words, “chaos” and Chaoskampf are inaccurate representations of traditions in the Hebrew Bible, as she demonstrates by analyzing the develop of the traditions for different ideological purposes. This is important because it marks an important shift in how agents of “alternative divine power structure” should be discussed.

Interestingly, Konrad Schmid, in his entry on Creation in “The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology” (2015 volume I, 174), describes the tehom of Genesis 1, lion in Job 38:39-40, Leviathan, crocodile, and Behemoth as “representatives of chaos”. Unfortunately such appropriation of these previous characters ignores the conflict myth consistently present through the ancient Near East that is utilized to legitimize certain ideologies through the conflict myth, a motif well explored by Ballentine.

In my view any current, and future, discussion about Chaoskampf must address the arguments of Ballentine. To do otherwise would be to do disservice to her wonderful work and dismiss it. Though perhaps it will be a challenge to leave the traditional German Chaoskampf in which so much scholarship is rooted.


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2 thoughts on ““Chaos” in Study of Hebrew Bible

  1. While I certainly don’t have all the nuances as pertains to the Hebrew Bible, I think I have a decent grasp on the concepts. Is Ballantine arguing that most of the conflict between Hebrews and other peoples is not so much a Hebrew-God vs chaos motif, but a Hebrew-God vs pagan-god motif? Is that how I am to understand this? Of course, I should go read Ballantine, and in a perfect world that’s what I’d do. But in the time-constrained reality I occupy, this isn’t possible at the moment, so I must rely on your interpretation. Offhand, I would think whether it’s Chaoskampf or alternative power structures would depend a lot on the specific example, no? Or is the point that Behemoth & c are actually representatives of these alien power structures, rather than symbolic of chaos?

    • She argues that the entire conflict motif, and hence God controlling Leviathan, swallowing death, etc., is not so much an issue of God defeating Chaos. And this is true across the board. Marduk defeating Tiamat is not a defeat a chaos. What many people have termed “agents of Chaos” is more so related to alternative power structures. And the alternative power structures are defeated through the conflict motif, which Ballentine traces through the biblical traditions and the ancient Near East. At the end of the day, the conflict myth is ideological in that it legitimizes and/or delegitimizes certains political parties.

      And you may be correct to an extent, about “whether it’s Chaoskampf or alternative power structures would depend a lot on the specific example”. I would initially disagree because I think Balentine has a really strong argument, but this is surely something to consider.

      And, as to your final comment, that is exactly what is being expressed.

      Cheers!

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