“Egypt as a Monster in the Book of Ezekiel” by Safwat Marzouk

Safwat Marzouk. Egypt as a Monster in the Book of Ezekiel. Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, June 2015, XVI + 291 pp., softcover, $70.

In Egypt as a Monster in the Book of Ezekiel, Safwat Marzouk explores the dimensions of Ezekiel’s appropriation of Egypt as a monster, utilizing a unique interdisciplinary approach. Originally a dissertation written at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2012, Marzouk’s dissertation was revised and became seventy-sixth publication in the line of Mohr Siebeck’s Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2 . Reihe. He is now an assistant professor of OT/HB at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.

The Introduction, albeit brief, is important because it indicates Marzouk’s unique position as a scholar, namely that he is an Egyptian Christian. In effect, his interpretations of Egypt’s role as a monster are relevant not only to biblical studies as an academic pursuit, but also to Egyptian Christians attempting to form their identities as their home nation is critiqued. Overall, he attempts to foster productive interreligious dialogue between Christians, Muslims, and Jews by recognizing the tensions active in the Middle East.

Chapter One reviews scholarship about the Chaoskampf motif, especially as it relates to Exodus and Egypt as a monster, and the socio-political situation of Ezekiel. Based on the work of Herman Gunkel, Marzouk justifies use of Chaoskampf for his analysis, primarily through Enuma Elisha, the Baal-Cycle, and Re-Apophis.  Accordingly, he assumes that Chaoskampf is appropriated by the prophets against foreign nations, breaking away from Gunkel’s traditional idea that Chaoskampf only concerned primordial creation. He also notes the tendency to relate Israel’s representation of Egypt as a monster to their experience during the Exodus. This tendency, though, is inadequate because biblical tradition’s appropriation of Chaoskampf varies with regard to theological intentions of various authors and specific reflection upon the Exodus account utilize Chaoskampf uniquely (Exo 15:1-18; Isa 51:9-10). Egypt, rather than standing for oppression, stands for threat of assimilation in Ezekiel. Following he discusses how Ezekiel scholarship tends to read Egypt’s judgement through the lens of the political situation in the Levant in Judah’s history. Yet this political conflict, for Marzouk, is less significant than the religious chaos which Ezekiel ascribes to Egypt’s influence, hence explaining purpose for representation of Egypt as a monster.

Chapter Two combines Chaoskampf with modern Monster Theory to further elucidate the nature of Chaoskampf through Ezekiel. Marzouk notes that, based on definitions, the category of “monster is an embodiment of abnormality and anomalism… based on a presupposed perception of what is normal” (46). Based on the works of J. J. Cohen, the monster’s Otherness signifies difference made flesh and provides contrast by which one may create identity. Because the embodiment of the Otherness is illustrated as monstrosity and the ones identity is formed in opposition to Otherness, torture of the body attests to unequal power relations explored by Satre, Foucault, and Nietzsche, from which Marzouk argues that “punishment upon the body of the monster” establishes affirmation of rules in society (55). He discusses further the categorization of monster by drawing out the monstrous double, in which the I projects him or herself on to Other in a manner which suggests the monster is a double. Additionally, he applies the Julia Kristeva’s discussion of “abjection” to his analysis by exploring how abjection of the Other from the I never completely banishes it, but permits it to remain on the borders of I’s selfhood.

Chapter Three expands on Chapter Two by relating Monster Theory to Chaoskampf through three texts; Enuma Elish, the Ugaritic Baal-Cycle, and Egyptian Re-Apophis. With regard to these literary traditions, Marzouk discusses the three aspects of the monster character. First, Chaoskampf is not merely binary opposites, but consistently recognizes the rival’s difference and sameness to the Other. Secondly, by ascribing Chaos’ identity to the body of a monster and dismembering it, the patron god effectively establishes sovereignty, underlines Chaos’ weakness, and threatens rebellious people. Third, he draws out the perpetual presence of Chaos, regardless of its defeat, on the periphery of society, acting as a threat to Order.

Chapter Four argues that Ezekiel’s Egypt and representation as a Monstrous Double is due to Egypt’s threat of religious assimilation. Hence, “Egypt’s continued involvement in Judahite political affairs symbolizes moral chaos in the life of Israel” (117). Marzouk draws out the linguistic connections between the two nations to represent their sameness, first emphasizing the chaotic implications of חמון, “multitude” or “pomp arrogance”, in Israel and Egypt. Secondly, he draws out how Ezekiel utilizes “to scatter”, “to disperse”, and “a mighty hand and outstretched arm” to create continuity between Israel and Egypt. Accordingly, because Ezekiel’s appropriation of Exodus identifies Israel’s struggle as idolatry and adultery with Egypt, “Israel’s rebellion… manifest[s] the darker side that Israel shares with its double, Egypt” (125). Marzouk proceeds to exegetically explore how, in Ezekiel, Israel’s idolatry was metaphorically adultery and “an intimate relationship between Egypt and Israel” (144). This idolatry and adultery is exemplary of how Israel’s identity is formed from Egypt’s chaos and abjectness, making fuzzy the boundaries between Israel and Egypt.

Chapter Five examines Egypt as the abject through its embodiment and dismemberment as monster. Marzouk emphasizes Ezekiel’s representation of Egypt as a monster through examination of the combat myth motif, which he connects to Chaos. The embodiment of Egypt as hybrid monster, one which transgresses norms, effectively prepares Ezekiel to speak of Egypt’s defeat and dismemberment. Defeat of embodied Chaos is, for Marzouk, present in ancient Near East traditions through Chaoskampf and Ezekiel’s appropriation boasts of Yahweh as a hunter and divine warrior who dismembers Egypt on the periphery of the dessert, deeming it impure. Egypt’s defeat as embodied Chaos has cosmological implication for Egypt, namely the drying up of the Nile and darkening of the luminaries.

Chapter Six, having established that Egypt represents the threat of Chaos via religious assimilation, explores Ezekiel with regard to two dimensions of center and periphery. First, Marzouk illustrates Ezekiel’s attempt to return Egypt to its southern border, Pathros, and indicates Egypt’s newfound political strength among nations. In doing so, Israel is made unable to intermingle with Egypt for political and military purposes, even as Egypt exists on the peripheries of Israelite society. This keeps Chaos at bay. Additionally, Egypt’s monster embodiment, now defeated, descends into Sheol and is part of the impure dead. Hence, the boundary between Israel and Egypt is clearly designated. Egypt’s death and dismemberment contrasts Israel’s resurrection in Ezekiel 37.

Marzouk’s arguments attempt to convince the reader “that Egypt is a monster in Ezekiel because Egypt stands in for the threat of assimilation” (238), the threat of religious chaos. He demonstrates this through Chaoskampf, exegetical work, and studies of monsters and Othernesss. His discussion of identity for Ezekiel, namely Israel and Egypt’s tenuous relationship, is oriented towards enhancing interreligious dialogue and establishing relationship by the similarities of the self and Other.

Overall, while Marzouk effectively demonstrates why Egypt is portrayed as a monster, it has some methodological shortfalls. His use of Monster Theory provides an incredibly unique and promising approach to the ancient Near East and Chaoskampf. However, the approach was not explored enough to justify it. Monster Theory is rooted in the cognitive environment of the modern world, not the ancient Near East. Thus, his appropriation of Monster Theory for Chaoskampf is not totally warranted. Further explanation and development of the relationship between Monster Theory and Chaoskampf would be beneficial.

Additionally, Chaoskampf was not thoroughly explored. This is important because there are some scholars who understand Chaoskampf to be a complete misrepresentation of ancient Near East combat myth. ““Chaos” is not an accurate characterization of the various enemies featured across articulations of the ancient West Asian conflict topos”, Ballentine notes. “The enemies defeated by the victorious warrior deities … were not agents of “chaos” but rather agents of an alternative divine power structure” (Ballentine: 2015, 186). In other words, Chaoskampf is often laid over already present notions of legitimization or de-legitimization of divine power structures and is, in many respect, unneccesary. So it is with Marzouk’s work. His application of Chaoskampf to Ezekiel’s representation of Egypt is unnecessary.

In relation to the previous critique, Marzouk fails to demonstrate why Enuma Elish, the Baal-Cycle, and Re-Apophis may be cross-culturally compared in order to demonstrate Monster Theory and his other methodological foundations. His assumption that Chaoskampf is an essential motif in the ancient Near East is seemingly his reason for cross-cultural discussion of the three texts and the Hebrew Bible, texts which for him utilize the same tool within their cognitive environment. But prior to doing so, he should have illustrated that their cognitive environments were actually the same, rather than merely assuming it based on Chaoskampf.

Even in the midst of these two critiques, his project has great analysis. First, his application of the Other and self, especially of the Other maintaining sameness while crossing borders, is superb. This discussion is an approach that should be considered more widely in biblical studies, as it utilizes modern anthropological studies to elucidate the humanity of the Hebrew Bible. Second, his application of the center:periphery structure provides wonderful insight to Ezekiel’s representation of Egypt. With the ideas of the sameness of the Other and self, center:periphery is an approach that should be embraced and utilized explore the complexities of the Hebrew Bible through an interdisciplinary lens.

In conclusion, while the critique of Marzouk’s methodology is important, he does, to a certain extent, effectively demonstrate Ezekiel’s representation of Egypt as a monster to be due to the ideas of Otherness and Sameness, and center and periphery. While his work is not necessarily revolutionary, it contributes to the discussion of alternative power structures, monsters, Ezekiel, and the combat myth in the Hebrew Bible and greater ancient Near East. His innovative methodology, albeit problematic at moments, is promising and holds potential to influence how people analyze the Hebrew Bible and read Ezekiel.



3 thoughts on ““Egypt as a Monster in the Book of Ezekiel” by Safwat Marzouk

  1. I should probably read Ballentine to get a fuller understanding of his argument about Chaoskampf. I thought that Yam and Tiamat were embodiments of chaos. I wonder what Ballentine means when he calls the defeated ones an alternative divine power structure. Does he believe that Yam and Tiamat were worshiped, but that Baal and Marduk took their place in the eyes of many people?

    • In essence, she pushes against Gunkel’s idea of Chaos vs. Order and Primordial Chaos. Scholars tend to quickly accept the defeated power as “Chaos” when, as Ballentine shows in “The Combat Myth and Biblical Tradition” (2015, Oxford University Press), the defeat of another deity almost always has socio-political ramifications. Each biblical author utilizes it for unique socio-political purposes, not to suggest or indicate that Chaos is prevailing or being defeated. Interestingly enough, she doesn’t even use the term “Chaoskampf” until she discusses, at the end of her work, why it isn’t a good explanation for the combat myth. And, in many respects, it seems as if people take for granted the “Chaoskampf” motif in scholarship, never questioning whether or not it really has a place. Perhaps I must attempt to find the line between overuse and underuse of Chaoskampf.

      Ballentine doesn’t necessarily believe that Yam and Tiamat were worshiped; rather, Tiamat isn’t necessarily even a worshipped god. In Ballentine’s words, “Enuma Elish promotes Marduk, Babylon, and Marduk’s temple through the legitimating ideology of the conflict topos” (34). She approaches Tiamat with a focus on the paramount moment of Enuma Elish, namely Marduk’s enthronement and temple establishment. It’s as if scholarship has focused so much on Tiamat that her character and role, along with Yam, have been blown out of proportion.

      After I finish my series on the strange fire of Leviticus, I will definitely make some posts exploring Chaoskamp. Research shall ensue.


      With regard,

      William Brown

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