“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.



“The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition” by Debra Scoggins Ballentine

The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition by Debra Scoggins Ballentine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015, 292 pp., $74, hardcover.

*I would like to express my gratitude to Oxford University Press for providing a review copy of The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition.

The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition traces conflict myth as an ideological tool for legitimization, or de-legitimization, of political entities throughout ancient West Asia. An assistant professor at Rutgers University in the Department of Religion, Debra Scoggins Ballentine specializes in Hebrew bible and ancient Near Eastern religions.

Chapter One of The Conflict Myth introduces Ballentine’s approach to myth theory and her purpose, namely “to identify how mythological themes are used in various sorts of contexts, regardless of how scholars classify those contexts” (12). Specifically she focuses on the mythological conflict topos and “its place with respect to ideology” (13). Chapter Two introduces and analyzes the conflict topos within four extant narratives, Anzu, Enuma Elilsh, Aššur Version of Enuma Elish, and the Balu Cycle. Each summary and analysis of extant narrative draws out and focuses upon the ideological implications, especially royal ideology. Ballentine demonstrates that each narrative, though with differing divine taxonomies, utilizes the conflict topos to legitimate kings and royalty, while also de-legitimizing other deities. In effect the myth narratives “promote particular cosmic and earthy locations and royal individuals” (71). Having established the ideological nature of the conflict topos, chapter three analyzes “shorter forms of the motif in epitomes, allusions, and imagery” (72) from sources between the 18th and 6th centuries BCE. Ballentine is careful to display the unique status of various utilizations of the conflict myth through every example. Chapter four continues by noting the various adaptations of the conflict myth through innovative legitimization within eschatological frameworks, drawing on literature of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, 1st and 2nd century Pseudepigrapha, and Rabbinic literature. Chapter five explores the secondary application of conflict myth to Gamaliel, Jesus, and Antiochus IV in regard to the notion of control over the sea. The final chapter (Chapter 5) importantly argues that “Chaos” “is not an accurate characterization of the various enemies featured across the articulations of the ancient West Asian conflict topos” (186) and re-states her primary points, especially drawing out the uniqueness of each application of the conflict myth for each particular ideological intention and political environment.

Overall, Ballentine’s goal is clearly accomplished. Without a doubt she demonstrates how the conflict myth is a common theme throughout ancient West Asian culture and how cultures have, throughout centuries, utilized the myth conflict to legitimize certain ideologies. Furthermore, she elucidates how the biblical tradition is not merely a “copy” of ancient West Asian conflict myth; rather, it is utilization of a common theme by which political power could be legitimatized, either by conflict myth of the past or eschatological innovations of conflict myth in the future. Such an accomplishment is one of the strongest elements of her work, especially because it offers a different understanding to the appropriation of characters like “Tiamat, Yammu, Môtu, and Lōtanu/Leviathan as “agents of chaos” or “chaos embodied”” (196). Additionally, her approach offers answers to questions about texts, such as her suggestion that “Rabbinic combat traditions may be responding to the types of claims made about secondary divine figures… propagated in late antique Christos-centered ideologies” (170), ideologies cleaved to by early Christianity for their theological benefit to Christian theologies. Such explanation for certain factors within biblical literature is present throughout her work. Finally, she is able to demonstrate the unique status of the biblical application of the conflict motif without wrongly pushing for its total autonomy from ancient West Asian themes or its total dependence upon ancient West Asian themes.

One major weakness of her work, although it does not take away from the validity of her conclusions, is her use of the Balu Cycle. As she presents the Balu Cycle and compared it to Anzu and Enuma Elish, the Balu Cycle is far more complex in regard to how it represents conflict and therein the characters involved. Although a conflict myth is present, the complexities suggest that the conflict myth within the Balu Cycle is similar to Anzu and Enuma Elish but not the same approach to conflict myth. Such complexities are present in the Hebrew Bible and the conflict myth in the Hebrew Bible operates within a time period in which Judeans are under the control of another nation, or “deity”, indicating that some nuances of the conflict myth remain unexplored. The necessity for one deity to approve another, as in the Balu Cycle, suggests a very unique political environment, one in which ancient Judeans consistently lived. Hence, further divisions of the types of conflict myth, beyond primary and secondary application, would have bolstered her overall arguments. Specifically, developing more textually based relationships between the various sources would support her argument even more, answering the reason conflict myth in the Balu Cycle and Anzu/Enuma Elish can be considered the same ideological tool of conflict myth.

Aside from how she used the Balu Cycle and her lack of nuances about types of conflict myth, especially as they relate to ideological legitimization, her work is excellent in its presentation of the conflict myth and biblical innovations of it. Wide coverage of literature, from Ugaritic works to Rabbinic works, and thorough analysis of each occur of the conflict motif mark her work as on to be remembered for future discussion. The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition provides a unique approach to conflict myth, and especially the Hebrew Bible, that may be utilized by scholars to develop a deeper and fuller understanding of biblical myth and the conflict myth.

“Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions” by Catherine Bell

Catherine Bell  (1953-2008). Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press: 2009.

Catherine Bells was, until her passing in May of 2008, Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. Previous to her work Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions, her seminal work Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (1992) became key to understanding the dichotomy between action and ritual. Her later publication, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimension, expanded the study to a more comprehensive history of the phenomenon of ritual theory and the vast number of perspectives and approaches to ritual. Now re-published in 2009 with a forward by Reza Aslan, a new generation may take hold of her detailed introduction to the history of ritual theory.

Her work is divided into three parts: theories, rites, and contexts. Part one explores three major schools of thought, clearly demonstrating how the schools dynamically interact with each other. Sense is made of how various theoretical approaches developed. Beyond providing neat arrangement of complex history, Bell opens up the opportunity for student readers to move forward with theories of which they take interest. She does this by demonstrating, at the end of each school of thought, how the range of theories within the schools each interpret, or would interpret, certain ritual. In effect, one is left with an organized account of the major theories within each school of thought.

Part two provides an introduction to the range of ritual rites. Bell is careful to note the dynamic relationship between the various categories so that students do not fall into a rigid system of ritual theory that ultimately overlays ritual interpretation with concepts foreign to the original audience and actor(s). The basic genres provide a healthy framework for understanding the different types of ritual, while characteristics of ritual-like activities demonstrate how ritual is actually expressed within societal contexts. Her depth of knowledge detail regarding the spectrum of ritual and clear presentation indicate her as an authoritative voice for any questions or issues surrounding what denotes “ritual activity”.

Part three approaches ritual within the fabric of life, the reasons for much or little ritual, change, and reification. Most interestingly, she notes that “if, in some fundamental way, we continue to see “modernity” as antithetical to religion and ritual, it may be due in part to how we have been defining religion” (202), a fascinating observation that reflects the mind of scholars and draws out a major difficulty of ritual studies. How does one approach ritual with the right mindset, objective and not presupposing, open minded and not limited in ritual interpretation? Though she doesn’t attempt to answer questions like this, it is a thoughtful element that flows and ebbs through her work. Even though she discusses various elements and logical categories of ritual density, change, and reification, ritual theory is clearly a difficult topic to discuss and not nearly as absolute as some scholars illustrate it to be.

In conclusion, Catherine Bell’s history of ritual perspectives and dimensions provides a study that draws out elements from scholars who developed the foundations of ritual theory. Although there has been development in the field of ritual studies, Bell’s work is rooted in the past. Hence, it will always be a resource for understanding how ritual studies emerged. Furthermore, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions consistently provides analysis of each early perspectives. Rather than merely present the information, Bell clearly demonstrates if certain theories possessed flaws without necessarily arguing for a certain approach. Finally, although her work is not oriented towards biblical scholars, as this blog is, she does provide possible foundations for interpretation of ritual in the Hebrew Bible. At the end of the day her heart for Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions shines through in her concluding statement, demonstrating that she sees ritual not as a bland academic endeavor but as a humanistic endeavor. In her own words, “the form and scope of interpretation differ, and that should not be lightly dismissed, but it cannot be amiss to see in all of these instances practices that illuminate our shared humanity” (267).

I would like to express my gratitude to Oxford University Press for providing me with a review copy and the opportunity to review the publication


“The Lost World of Adam and Eve” by John H. Walton

Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing me with a review copy of The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate immerses the reader into the ancient context of Genesis 2-3 in order to demonstrate the necessity of Genesis’ autonomy from the modern cognitive environment. In effect, he is able to explore Genesis 2-3’s implications for humanity without conflicting modern science. His research is honest to Genesis’ ancient cognitive environment. Even after illustrating the ancient context of Genesis 2-3’s message, he explores the New Testament’s use of Adam and demonstrates how it is compatible with Genesis’ ancient context. By his conclusion, he reasons that Genesis 2-3 is, in fact, not about human origins; rather, it is an explanation of how the priests of humanity, Adam with Eve, designated themselves as the ones who determine and create order in the cosmos.

Although Walton aims his work towards a primarily evangelical audience, it remains an essential analysis of human origins and Genesis 2-3. For any reader, he convincingly communicates the non-scientific nature of Genesis 2-3. In doing so, Walton allows for Scripture and science to maintain distinct and autonomous authoritative voices. And with the increasing secularism (not intended to be pejorative), he provides his audience the well-reasoned and thought out information to respect Scripture and the science of human origins.

Additionally, from an exegetical perspective, his sound approach to Genesis’ context explains many aspects of it which are generally missed by the common reader. For example, his pristine treatment of chaos in the ancient world clearly and concisely provides the reader with a proper frame by which to approach the text. Rather than leaving the discussion to the Hebrew bible, his clarity in connecting the information to the New Testament literature allows Christian readers to formulate more complete and thought out reasons for their faith. Even to those without a Christian faith, Walton’s book is a prime example of Christian scholarship which is honest with its materials, and yet also faithful to Christian tradition.

Overall, Walton is thorough covers many of the important aspects of Genesis 2-3. However, the one surprising bit which he excluded was any interaction with Jon Levenson’s Creation and the Persistence of Evil. Considering that Levenson exploration of the persistence of evil throughout the the Hebrew Bible agreed at many points with Walton’s conclusion, Walton should have utilized Levenon’s work more fully to paint a fuller picture of Genesis 2-3 and also support his conclusions.

In conclusion, John Walton’s exploration of the ancient context of Genesis 2-3 is an essential read to any person seeking to interpret Genesis 2-3 in its own context. For Christians, it provides an explanation of the New Testament’s use of Adam and allows them to better understand the underlying messages within the New Testament. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with what Walton considers to be authoritative texts, namely the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, his work opens up the ancient world to scholars and laypersons alike. With understandable language the reader is introduced to the ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment and invited to read Genesis 2-3 in the same framework as ancient Israel. In doing so, the debate of human origins is no longer an issue and the reader recognizes how s/he can respect the sciences and the Scriptures.

Click here to purchase The Lost World of Adam and Eve from my Amazon Associates Store

“Simply Jesus” by NT Wright

In Simply Jesus, renowned New Testament scholar NT Wright speaks to Christians from all walks of life to answer a simple question: Who is Jesus? An essential question to any human being, Wright addresses this issue through exploring the context of Jesus which exposes the more subtle implications of Jesus’ self and message that are absent in many churches. Rather than simply take the side of conservative evangelicals or skeptics, regarding the answer to who Jesus was, he finds a fair balance by criticizing both sides of the spectrum and allowing each side to inform the other practically about the topic. In approaching Jesus’ character, rather than simply performing dry exegetical work, he approaches the issue of worldviews to begin his exploration of answering the question of who Jesus is. After all, “if we are to do real history, we have to allow people in other times and other places to be radically different from us” (22-23).

The greatest accomplishment, considering his audience is the average church go-er, is his language and style. Simply Jesus is written like a conversation with an academic thrust. So, rather than simply observing a text book, the reader is able to speak with NT Wright about the topic. He accomplishes this task through a variety of tools like rhetorical questions, personal stories, and easy to understand language. Furthermore, he explains Jesus’ context clearly in divided categories, simplifying the historical records in order that it may be easier for his readers to understand. At last, Wright makes his book more than answering the question of who Jesus is. Simply Jesus is a call to believers to take responsibly their roles as disciples of Jesus, the body of Christ operating on this earth, which is Jesus’ Lordship and rule.

The greatest issue with Simply Jesus was in his discussion regarding the Scriptures that formed the backdrop for Jesus’ ministry. Although he rightly includes Isaiah 40-66, Daniel, and Zechariah, he fails to fully discuss Jeremiah 31:31-34, the prophetic text about a New Covenant. If he is to fully discuss the ministry of Jesus, which results in the “New Covenant”, it is absolutely necessary to discuss how Jesus uses the concept of New Covenant, originally presented in Jeremiah, in a 1st century Jewish and Roman context. While there is not too much lost from this information’s absence, there would be much gained by addressing this backdrop of Jesus.

In conclusion, Simply Jesus is a book that is essential for any person seeking to understand the Gospels. While it should not be read in place of the Gospels, it should be read as a guidebook to understanding Jesus’ context. Because it is more than a textbook, the reader can have a spiritual experience as Wright paints the context of Jesus that made his message so radical. Believer should recognize his context and now recognize that we are called to the same thing. Believers are called to be more than privatized religion. Just as Jesus was political, in some sense, Christians should be political when they state that Jesus is Lord and King over all of history. This point, often forgotten, is an essential to understand who Jesus is and how we follow him. Thus, any Christian serious about knowing God, about knowing Jesus, should set aside a few days to allow God to speak to them through Simply Jesus.

Click here to purchase Simply Jesus by NT Wright