Courses for Spring 2017

Assuming I can convince one of my professors to change the time for a class, I plan on taking three courses next quarter. First, I will continue into the 3rd sequence of Akkadian. I look forward to this because I’ll finally have a basic grasp of the Akkadian grammar. Plus, I’ll be more prepared to utilized Akkadian in any future papers. Second, I will continue into the third sequence of Biblical Hebrew; however, because we’ve finished Lamdbin’s grammar already, it will be a reading course for the book of Psalms. For the paper at the end of the quarter, I hope to write about Psalm 82. Finally, I will take another language course: Old South Arabian. Although it is often times used, it is becoming more and more recognized as an important thing to consider along with ancient Israelite history and literature. Names of people who use Old South Arabian inscriptions for this purpose include, though are not limited to, Seth Sanders and Laruen Monroe.

It will be a great quarter!

My Only “Political” Post of the Year

I encourage all people to listen to this song. If the song is too heavy or loud, I encourage you to consider the lyrics in the song. Also, checkout the footnotes the lyrics. I’ve attached the lyrics with their footnotes below the video for your convenience:

LYRICS:
I saw you stumble out from the social slaughter house, oppression’s progeny, you lift your head and plead for mercy. Rocks began as building blocks until they turned to throwing stones; a monolith of dominance we set atop your plinth of bones.[01]

This privilege[02] is a prism, reflecting our indecision, the iniquities of inhibition, our indifference gave way to a prison.[03] Classes at war,[04] castes are born – criminals are sworn in.[05]

Place your hands to the pulse of this city,[06] keep your ear to the ground, hear her gasp, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”[07]

Are we so blind to believe that violence could give birth to peace?[08]

Lay down our weapons and raise our arms.[09] Make every breath a protest in a world where your neighbors cannot breathe. Every second in the shadows,[10] lives are stolen in the sun – slowly waking from our apathy to see the fascists have won. They already won – just ask the child in front of the smoking gun.[11]

Are we so blind to believe that violence could give birth to peace?

Place your hands to the pulse of this city, keep your ear to the ground, hear him gasp, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”[12]
We shout at fascist[13] hands fixed on asphyxiating those in need. Place your hands to the pulse of this city, keep your ear to the ground, hear her gasp, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”[14]

Are we so blind to believe that violence could give birth to peace?

I’ve seen the end, the tyrant on his knees.[15] Will we starve our need for retribution, or take his eye and all go blind?[16][17]

FOOTNOTES:
01 — Michel Foulcault, Discipline and Punish
02 — Allan G. Johnson, Privilege, Power, and Difference
03 — Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
04 — Noam Chomsky, Class Warfare
05 — Several past and near-future presidents of the United States of America
06 — Blackstar, Respiration ft. Common
07 — Eric Garner in Staten Island, NYC on July 17, 2014
08 — Matthew 26:52
09 — Isaiah 2:4
10 — Walter Brueggemann, Out of Babylon
11 — Countless children who have been victims of both gang and police shootings, who have been disproportionately ethnic minorities and in lower socioeconomic areas of USA.
12 — Hernan Jaramillo in Oakland, CA on July 8, 2013
13 — Donald J. Trump
14 — Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, CA on July 5, 2011
15 — Sic Semper Tyrannis
16 — “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” – commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi
17 — For more information on social inequality and systemic incarceration please visit: Equal Justice Initiative at http://www.eji.org. An excellent community resource for inner-city African American families: http://www.aapci.org

Before Ancient Israel

I have read quite a bit about the emergence of ancient Israel in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron age. I have read quite a bit about the surrounding culture in the Levant and Near East. Today, though, I came across something which I have never thought about: the Levant in the 6th millennium (c. 5999 BCE – 5000 BCE). Because the article is relatively technical and unavailable for general readership, I will offer a succinct summary of the article.

Katharina Streit begins with a short history of scholarship for archaeology in the Levant. Although it has been noted before, she reminds us that the 6th millennium is not necessarily prehistory. At the same time, it doesn’t fit within ancient Israelite history. So, it is an oft ignored field of research. She then offers a short summary of Jacob Kaplan’s archaeology, which connected a particular style of pottery in the Levant  to a type of pottery found in Northern Mesopotamia.

Now, at a 2015 dig in Ein el-Jarba, two Halaf sherds were discovered. A Halaf sherd is a reference to a particular style of pottery in Northern Mesopotamia. In other words, these two sherds from roughly the 6th millennium BCE are evidence for active inter-cultural exchange between Northern Mesopotamia and the southern Levant. This means that there is reason to suggest that there was an “intense transregional exchange network that culminated in the sixth millennium.”

Although it isn’t necessarily directly relevant to the emergence of ancient Israel and the Levantine culture, I would love to see more about how historical circumstances back to the 6th millennium may have, or may not have, influenced the eventual development of ancient Israelite culture(s).

“The Near East before Borders: Recent Excavations at Ein el-Jarba (Israel) and the Cultural Interactions of the Sixth Millennium cal. B.C.E. ” by Katharina Streit, in Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 79, No. 4 (December 2016), published by ASOR, pp. 236-245.

Forthcoming Book Alert: Prophecy in the Ancient Near East and Hebrew Bible

Although it will not be published for quite a while, I am looking forward to a forthcoming publication from de Gruyter: Prophecy in the Ancient Near East and the Hebrew Bible by Martti Nissinen. For those who are not aware, Martti Nissinen is well known for his work with Near Eastern literature and prophecy. One of his books was, in fact, one of the first academic books which I ever read. So, he is very much the reason why I do what I do today.

https://www.degruyter.com/view/product/468673?rskey=g6dM55&result=16

On the Mahābhārata: Internal, Ancient Pantheon Conflicts

12burningforestThis weekend, I started analyzing the narrative about the burning of the Khandava Forest. One thing which came to the surface was how I should understand the conflict between the gods and team Arjuna-Krsna. In the case of this passage within the Mahābhārata, the conflict is seemingly Arjuna, Krsna, and Agni (Fire) against Indra and the gods. Yet, when we consider the textual and oral context of the Mahābhārata, another important factor comes into play.

By the period in which the Mahābhārata was being compiled, the Rigveda was an normative text. Predating the Mahābhārata, the Rigveda is a series of poems composed c. 1500 BCE. In it, one of the predominant gods is Agni. Agni is also the Fire god present in the burning of the Khandava forest. This is important because in a few of the English translations of the Rigveda which I have quickly examined, the first hymn in the first book is about Agni, the god of Fire. And because the Mahābhārata was composed in a period when Vedic traditions from the Rigveda were known, it is reasonable to suggest that Fire (Agni) in the Mahābhārata evoked memory of a very ancient deity.

Likewise, Indra is one of the most important figures in the Rigveda. During the Vedic period, he was one of the main gods. Thus, we may assume that any mentions of Indra evoked memory of a deity who was known to be very ancient.

According to Britannica, Agni was second only to Indra. In light of this information, it offers an interesting perspective from which to read the burning of the Khandava forest. It draws emphasis away from conflict between team Krsna-Arjuna and team Indra. It re-focuses emphasis upon the ancient, internal conflict between Agni (Fire) and Indra, important members of the ancient pantheon as presented in the Rigveda.

After I tease out my analysis of the narrative structure, I hope to consider how this approach to the text may be fruitful.

*These thoughts are in no way meant to be complete. This blog is merely an extension of my brain. Writing these on a public sphere is a chance for me to draft and test my ideas before further exploring them. Also, please forgive the lack of proper citations. Feel free to check the entry for Agni on Encyclopedia Britannica or the dating for the composition of the Rigveda.

“In Defense of the Liberal in the Study of Religion” by Jeffrey Stackert

bldg20shot

University of Chicago Divinity School, Swift Hall

Jeffrey Stackert teaches Biblical Studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School. In this very short article, he makes some important points about the relationship between the study of religion, conservatives, and liberals. I encourage non-specialists [1], whether liberal or conservative, to read this because it is very straightforward and easy to grasp.

Click here to read.

[1] Non-specialist simply means you don’t study this stuff for a living; it is not intended to be pejorative or a demeaning term.

 

On the Mahābhārata: Burning of the Khandava Forest

12burningforest

Original image here

In my previous post, I wrote about what I want to research for my quarter paper. In this post, I will offer a more detailed summary of the narrative and preliminary thoughts about the text. I am reading from Jenny van Buitenen’s 1973 translation of the Critical Edition of the Mahābhārata.

The narrative begins by setting a peaceful and tranquil scene. The king of Indraprastha has established order in the region. For no apparent reason, Arjuna (called “the Terrifier”) and Krsna go to the river Yamunā. At the river are festivities. Arjuna (called “Kuru” and “Pārtha”) and Krsna (called “Dasārha” and “Mādhava”) find a quiet area to speak of their past feats and loves. A visually stunning brahmin approaches them and requests food, for he eats boundlessly. Arjuna and Krsna agree to fetch him food. Then, he announces that he is actually Fire. Fire desires to eat (burn) the Khandava Forest; however, Indra protects the forest. Indra protects the forest because his friend, the Snake Taksaka lives in the forest.

Krsna and Arjuna agree to help Fire burn the forest. Arjuna, though, requests that both himself and Krsna be given new weapons and chariots equal to their own strength. Fire agrees, calls upon Varunā, and Varunā offers the weapons and chariots on behalf of Fire [1]. Ready to fight against Indra, Krsna and Arjuna surround the forest as Fire begins to burn it. As the forest burns, animals die by the thousands: “All over, the souls were seen writhing on the ground, with burning wings, eyes, and paws until they perished. As all watery places came to a boil… the turtles and fish were found dead by the thousands. With their burning bodies the creatures in that forest appeared like living torches until they breathed their last” (418).

The gods become aware of current events and inform Indra. Indra sends thousands of rain shafts. The rains shafts are evaporated by Fire. Arjuna’s arrows drive away Indra’s rain. Indra continues to cast water upon the forest, but Arjuna and Krsna continue stopping the attacks. Arjuna goes as far as draining “the power and might of the thunderbolts and clouds of Indra” (419) [2].

Seeing Indra’s weapons defeated, animals and Indra attacks in a different way, along with the fellow pantheon. Yet again, they are defeated. The gods retreat to Indra in fear of the might of Krsna and Arjuna. Indra, looking upon “the constant prowess of the two in battle” (420) is greatly pleased [3]. He then continues the fight  by uprooting the peak of a mountain and tossing it at Arjuna [4]. Arjuna shoots arrows which split the mountain into pieces, killing more creatures in the Khandava. Again, the text describes the gruesome nature of the battle death: “They saw the conflagration raging and the two Krsnas with their weapons read; and the roaring sound of the upheaval brought them to terror. Janardana (Krsna) let loose his discus, which shone with its own light, and the humble creatures as well as the Danavas and the Stalkers of the Night were cut down by the hundreds, and they all fell instantly into the Fire. Rent by Krsna’s discuss, the Raksasas were seen besmirched with fat and blood like clouds at twilight” (421).

At this, the god choose to retreat. Indra, then, continued” “to be pleased” and praises Krsna and Arjuna. Out of nowhere, a disembodied voice speaks to Indra, ordering him to stop fighting Krsna and Arjuna because (1) the Snake Taksaka is alive and (2) they cannot be defeated. They cannot be defeated because they are two incarnate divinities. Indra departs.

Krsna and Arjuna continue slaying the creatures as Fire consumes the forest. Finally, the god Fire is satisfied. The text portrays the burning of the forest as a sacrificial feast.

After a side story, the focus is again on Krsna and Arjuna. The forest having been burnt, Indra offers both Krsna and Arjuna boons. Arjuna chooses more weapons, which Indra will give him at the proper time. Krsna chooses eternal friendship with Arjuna. Fire is satiated and rests.

As a whole, the text could be outlined in the following way:

  • Arjuna and Krsna travel to the river Yamunā.
    • They meet Fire, who requests that they both help him consume the Khandavas forest.
    • They agree to do so  and Fire provides immortal weapons for Krsna and Arjuna.
      • They begin burning the forest and slaying creatures.
        • The Gods inform Indra of the attack on the forest.
          • Indra, the gods, and creatures all attempt to stop Arjuna and Krsna, only to fail.
            • The gods retreat to Indra in fear.
              • Indra is pleased by Krsna and Arjuna.
          • Indra attempts to stop the divine duo by throwing a mountain at Arjuna, which Arjuna breaks.
            • The gods retreat.
              • Indra is pleased by Krsna and Arjuna.
        • A divine voice informs Indra that he should stop the attack.
      • They finish burning the forest and slaying creatures.
    • Indra offers Krsna and Arjuna boons. Here Arjuna gets more immortal weapons, and Krsna gets Arjuna’s friendship. [5]
    • Fire dismisses Arjuna and Krsna.

 

*All thoughts expressed here are merely an extension of my creative process. They should not be taken as strong data or arguments.

 

 

 

[1] These are the same weapons which used by the more ancient versions of themselves, Nara and Nārāyana, in creating the Soma elixir.

[2] This is a particularly impressive feat because Indra is supposedly the head of the Pantheon. He should be the strongest god; yet, it is not so in the Mahābhārata. This development, then, Indra’s continuous defeat by Arjuna and Krsna, can support an argument that this narrative attempts to justify their power over the older, Vedic pantheon (Indra and friends).

[3] Indra’s satisfaction with Krsna and Arjuna is odd. For, why would Indra be satisfied with gods who are burning the forest which he is protecting? The text again notes Indra’s satisfaction very soon.

[4] Krsna, as important as he is in Hinduism, is surprisingly absent throughout this battle.

[5] Before this happens and after the burning of the forest, the narrator briefly tells a story about how a few of the animals survived, at least in the Critical Edition from which Buitenen translates. I suspect this is a later interpolation because it lacks any narrative coherency.