“Evil and Death” edited by Beate Ego and Ulrike Mittman

EvilandDeathEvil and Death: Conceptions of the Human in Biblical, Early Jewish, Greco-Roman and Egyptian Literature. Edited by Beate Ego and Ulrike Mittmann. Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature Studies 18. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015, pp. 421, $168 (de Gruyter).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to de Gruyter for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. Additionally, I should note that I did not realize half of the contributions were written in German until I received this book. That said, I will only review the English contributions for the time being. After mastering reading in German next summer, I will complete the review.

Evil and Death contains a variety of articles approaching the title subject, sin and death, from an anthropological perspective. Consequently the volume is demonstrative of the diversity of anthropological worldviews within antiquity. Although the website describes the volume as “an exemplary foundation for further research on ancient Jewish anthropology”, it is more of an exemplary foundation for further research on ancient anthropology more generally.

Patricia Kirkpatrick (McGill University) examines how Mrs. Job expresses the narrator’s judgement by challenging Job’s rigid covenant framework of retributive justice. While this article does well at proposing an alternative understanding of Job’s wife, greater interaction with the rhetorical discourse of the text itself and how it is reflected in later reception would have strengthened her argument.

Christoph Berner examines dynamics between death, evil, humans, and God in Qohelet and how it provides a foundation for the reworked book of Qohelet. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this contribution. More specifically, the manner in which compares Qohelet’s anthropology to the Priestly creation account does well in illuminating what is unique about its anthropology.

Gerbern S. Oegema (McGill University) explores the variety of ethics in early Judaism, illuminating the divergent ideas and consistent ideas, in order to demonstrate the ethic foundation sof early Judaism. While this contribution is intriguing for contributing to the anthropological diversity in early Judaism, there is nothing particularly programmatic or innovative.

David A. deSilva (Ashland Theological Seminary) investigates the author’s interaction with theodicy in 4 Maccabees, drawing out how human nature (menschenbild), Torah, evil, death, and eschatology intersect to form a cogent image of how the author of 4 Macc. deals with evil in the human experience.

In my favorite contribution, Ekaterina Matusova examines the Greek influence on 1 Enoch 22:1-13 and connects the river topos and post-mortem traditions to a Mesopotamian prototype and biblical tradition. Matusova does well in clearly demonstrating how Mesopotamian prototype is present in 1 Enoch, and even in Greek literature; however, her argument would be stronger if it moved beyond a mere literary connection. I would have liked if she had attempted to briefly traces how the Mesopotamian prototype influenced 1 Enoch, and other Greek literature, through historical evidence.

Ian H. Henderson (McGill University) considers how children in Mark reflect the author’s anthropology about humanity: “objective powerlessness, desperate vulnerability to death and the demonic, profound dependence on God” (216). This complexity partnered with the role of parents in Mark bolsters and prepares Jesus’ audience for the coming of the Son of Man.

Rouven Genz (Theologisches Studienhaus) illuminating the account of Lazarus and the poor man through a contextualized reading, in which he draws out the particularities of the Lukan use of the motif, and a theological reading of Lazarus as fate without Jesus. His argument is intriuging because, through contextualization of the Lukan motif, he is able to draw out what is unique in Lukan reception and connect it to the anthropology of Luke via theology.

Ellen Bradshaw Aitken attempts to answer what constitutes humanity in Hebrews. Unfortunately, the article is quite unclear and difficult to follow.

Finally, Marlis Arnhold (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn) examines representation as evil and death in the myth of Meleager through textual (Homer, Bachylides, and Ovid) and visual (Sarcophagi) sources. She does well in drawing out how different receptions of the myth interacted with the extent to which the human, or the deity, was responsible evil and death within the tale. Consequenly, she presents a cogent image of anthropological views throught he reception of a single myth.

At least from the English contributions, this volume is important. With the exception of Aitken’s article, it provides several unique and innovative approaches to various areas of antiquity through an anthropologically focused approach. The volume isn’t necessarily the sort of thing perfect for an individuals bookshelf; however, it is an excellent addition to any library or reference shelf.






“Religion and Ideology in Assyria” by Beate Pongratz-Leisten

BeateBeate Pongratz-Leisten. Religion and Ideology in Assyria. SANER, Vol. 6. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015, pp. 553, $154 (de Gruyter).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to de Gruyter for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Beate Pongratz-Leisten is a Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at New York University (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World). With an already extensive CV of articles and books relating to the history of the ancient Near East, this work is seminal in the field of Assyriology. The seed of Religion and Ideology in Assyria began in 2003 and the final product was published in 2015. So, her work is in many respects the heart and soul of her academic experience. As a result, Religion and Ideology in Assyria provides an extremely in-depth understanding and analysis of how Assyrian ideological discourse “reflected and informed power relations” in the “history of Assyrian kingship and its conception in myth, historiography, ritual, and imagery” (9). In this light, I will provide a summary and critique of her work.

Chapter I introduces methodological issues, history of research, and states a purpose to explore “dynamics between religion and ideological discourse” (40) in Assyria. She is careful to draw out that she focuses not only on Mesopotamia proper but also, and rightly so, cultural interactions with Syrian and Anatolian cultures which influenced certain ideology. Chapter II identifies early scholarly discourse about kingship through Ur III period writing, Early Dynastic iconography, and other cultural influences. In doing so, she demonstrates why Assyrian kings were so successful, pointing towards “a rich tapestry of traditions from which to weave their particular ideological discourse” (92). Chapter III  traces the spread of Sumero-Babylonian traditions into the North, how Assyria appropriated these traditions with local traditions, and establishes two fundamental ideas in the cultural framework of royal ideology: the Assyrian king as a steward of the deity Aššur, and his relationship with Ištar. Chapter IV proceeds to illustrate the discourse in which Assyria developed a sense of empire as cosmos, or universal control, through various royal and literary texts and sociopolitical conditions. The motif of universal control finds its pinnacle with Sargon II, for whose records demonstrates a desire to found the new city as a king in a primordial act of creation.

Chapter V inspects how the political and religion dimensions of Assyrian kingship were mutually dependent, illuminating royal ideological emphasis on hunt, warfare, and the building of temples as legitimizing tools in narrative and the cultural reasoning behind the tropes. Chapter VI expands upon the “Hunter” trope and traces the discourse in which the Assyrian king acquired attributes of Ninurta from early myth texts. Having established the mythic underpinnings of royal Assyrian discourse, Chapter VII argues that royal inscriptions were not merely manipulative and propagandist; rather they should “be read as tools with which kings identified themselves as individuals acting at a particular moment in history” (288). Chapter VIII draws out how myth provided a narrative mode for royal inscriptions through intertextuality with myths, thereby engaging with Assyrian cultural memory and producing meaning. Expanding on the intertextuality between royal inscriptions and myth, Chapter IX explores how individual Assyrian rulers interacted with and redacted cultural elements as a type of historiography  in order to proclaim success and establish themselves as paradigmatic models of kingship.

Shifting gears, Chapter X explores how Assyrian appropriation of cultic practice and ritual served to reinforce, or in some cases construct anew, Assyrian royal ideology. Finally Chapter XI broadens the focus from motif discourses to the importance of scholars within the Assyrian kingship circles as contributors and fashioners of the image of Assyrian kingship and royal ideology and the carriers of cultural memory.

Without a doubt, I am more than impressed with Pongratz-Leisten’s book. Her erudite analysis draws on a massive variety of interpretive approaches, providing her with the resources to effectively draw out the lengthy discursive traditions of royal ideological discourse. Furthermore, her ability to fully illuminate the accumulated and re-worked royal ideological tropes through the time and space with such clarity is important as it provides a framework and analysis for considering critical historical issue in the future. She expertly maneuvers the contours and nuances of tropological discourse in royal ideology and provides a rock-solid text for understanding how motifs developed through history. Regardless of the period or region of Mesopotamian history which one may be studying, this book is valuable either to identify how Assyrian royal ideology was unique in comparison to other traditions or to further the uniqueness of Assyrian royal ideology.

While admiration is great, I do have an important, albeit small, critique. In exploring divine knowledge as a model for kingship, Pongratz-Leisten notes that “ancient Near Eastern knowledge is primarily practical rather than moral or philosophical” (273-274). She uses this argument to explain the type of scholarly knowledge and expertise acquired by Esarhaddon (680-669 BCE) as a legitimizing tool for his kingship. I wonder, though, what she means by “moral or philosophical”. Contextually, these terms carry quite a bit of weight and are often times controversial. Rather than immediately distinguishing these categories as not practical, Pongratz-Leisten would have done well to engage with them. Consider, for example, Mark van de Mieroop’s very recent publication Philosophy before the Greeks (Princeton Press, 2015) in which he argues that there was, in fact, such a thing as Babylonian philosophy.

Aside from this small critique, which ultimately does not take away from the grandeur of her work, I highly recommend Religion and Ideology in Assyria. Although most people will not read straight through the work as I did, it is nonetheless and fantastic resource on the development of various myth motifs and how they were appropriated in various time period for various rulers. One potential I see following this work is further analysis about how various tropes within Assyrian ideological discourse may have influenced ancient Israelite religion and kingship. Based on the value of her work, I am excited to see how others utilize it as a starting point for further recognizing the impact of Assyrian royal ideological discourse.



“Priestly Rule: Polemic and Biblical Interpretation in Ezekiel 44” by Nathan MacDonald

PriestNathan MacDonald. Priestly Rule: Polemic and Biblical Interpretation in Ezekiel 44. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 476. Boston, MA: De Gruyter, 2015, 172 pp., $126.00  (hardcover).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to De Gruyter for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

In Nathan MacDonald’s most recent publication (PhD, University of Durham; current lecturer in Hebrew Bible at St. John’s College), he explores the dependency of Ezekiel 44 upon Isaiah 56 and other texts. Following is a new proposal for the composition history of Ezekiel 44. This history, MacDonald contends, is not self-indulgence and hyper-specialization, but a contribution to composition history and recent exploration about the Zadokite priestly sept.

MacDonald writes in opposition to the foundation established by Wellhausen which argues Ezekiel 44 contains the first sharp distinction between priests and Levites and suggests that this division was later projected back into the Pentateuch. Likewise, Michael Fishbane’s comments on Ezekiel 44 are valuable; yet, they assume a direction of influence and avoid the issue of historical referentiality. MacDonald combines these concerns with redaction-critical studies of Thilo Rudnig to challenge the unity Ezekiel 44 as guidance for methodology. Thus, his methodology focuses on redaction criticism and inner-biblical interpretation. Regarding inner-biblical interpretation, MacDonald’s methodology employs five general rules for determining inner-biblical interpretative direction in agreement current attempts “to establish more robust criteria” (13). With regard to redaction criticism, he makes to important methodological qualifications: (1) clear distinction between redaction and Fortschreibung, the re-writing text for ideological purposes and the latter glossing brief clarification in a text; and (2) value of literary-critical analysis not as an end-all-be-all, but as containing heuristic value with a reliable analytical framework.

I do wish that he had developed the introductory chapter more clearly in order to better communicate the nuances of his methodology. In both introducing methodological issues about inner-biblical interpretation and redaction-criticism, his conclusions both contain a sort of ambiguity, namely inner-biblical interpretative standards which “must be assessed on their own merits” (14) and redaction-critical analyses that hold tentatively to the hypothesis. While this sort of caution with both inner-biblical interpretation and redaction-criticism are understandable, especially because the latter is more theoretically based model, there is lack of solidity in MacDonald formulating and expressing his methodology.

The remainder of the book is divided into three chapters. Chapter One begins with a nuanced and highly attentive reading Ezekiel 44’s oracle and how it interacts especially with Isaiah 56 and other Pentateuch texts. His analysis of Isaiah 56 clearly illustrates that foreigners would receive a priestly rule. After pointing out errors in recent treatments of the texts by Schaper, Fishbane, and Tuell, MacDonald argues that Ezekiel 44 draws upon Isaiah 56. His evidence is compelling and effectively communicates how Isaiah 56 cannot be responding to Ezekiel 44, a point very much supported by the only term for foreigner as בְּנֵֽי־נֵכָ֗ר, a term present in Isaiah 56 and absent from the remainder of Ezekiel. Having established that Ezekiel 44 drew from Isaiah 56, MacDonald re-examines the oracle of Ezekiel 44. He draws on the Pentateuch to show how the oracle (Ez. 44:6-7) to exemplify how Ezekiel 44 responds to Isaiah 56, namely the uncircumcised as covenant violators in Genesis 17 and polluted sacrifices in Leviticus 22. He then moves onto the remainder of the oracle in vs. 9-16. His redaction-critical analysis and inner-biblical interpretation of this part of the oracle demonstrates a sophisticated structure that draws on Numbers 18 and Ezekiel 14. It also sees the redaction of the original oracle, vv. 6, 7, 9, and parts of 15, as influenced by the Levite and priest distinction in Numbers 18. His analysis also suggests that the original oracle in Ezekiel may have been composed prior to the composition of the Holiness Code and distinction between priest and Levite in Numbers.

Resulting is an excellent proposition for the composition of Ezekiel 44:6-16, the earliest layer being an oracle in favor of the Levites and against foreigners in the Temple, and the latest layer being the redaction that inserted a distinction between priests, namely the Sons of Zadok, and Levites. This proposal achieves a more nuanced explanation in the remaining chapters.

Chapter Two focuses on the second half of Ezekiel 44 (vv. 17-31). Pushing against Gese who argues that vv. 28-30a are one unit, MacDonald notes the intertextual relationship between Ezekiel 44: 28 and Deuteronomy 18:2, Leviticus 19:19, and Ezekiel 44:17-19 to Leviticus 16:4 in order to propose that Ezekiel 44:18 is not inspired Fortschreibung (cf. Johannes Herrmann, 1908). These relations establish the inheritance of priests and rules for their vestments. Following MacDonald reviews the scholarship surrounding the intertextual reference in Ezekiel 44:20-27 and seeks to demonstrate the relationship between Ezekiel and Leviticus. Moreover, what contributes to scholarship is in explaining “the existence of divergent opinions on the relationship” (68). While many scholars have explored the relationship between the textual traditions of Ezekiel 44:20-27 and Leviticus, none have specifically sought to explain the polemical difference. Concerning various aspects of priestly conduct, MacDonald clearly demonstrates how Ezekiel 44 utilized the Pentateuch; however, the version of Leviticus 10 and 21 which the compiler used was “typologically earlier than the text preserved in the Masoretic tradition” (68). With the final portion of prerequisites (vv. 28-31), MacDonald argues that the author draws from Numbers 18 through nuanced inner-biblical interpretation.

These elements combines to yield a final proposal for the composition history of Ezekiel 44. Vv. 44.6-7,9,15 were the original oracles in response to Isaiah 56, which appealed to Isaiah on the ground of Genesis and Deuteronomy. This was added to and modified in Ezekiel 44:6-31 through two expansions: (1) it claimed distinction between priests on Levites on the grounds of Numbers 18 and Ezekiel 14, applies rebuke and a subordinate role Levites, and provides priests with a special role; (2) Some restrictions were added from Leviticus 10 and 21-22.

Three Layers:

Original Oracles: vv. 44.6-7, 9, 15, 28

First Expansion: vv. 7bβ, 8, 10-14, 15b, 16-19,  29-30

Second Expansion: vv. 20-27, 31

Finally, with the newly established composition history of Ezekiel 44, MacDonald shifts to the role of Zadok and the Sons of Zadok the the Second Temple Period. In exploring the role of the Zadokites in Chronicles, it is clear that they are equal to the Levites. Within the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Sons of Zadok only appear in later redactions of the Damascus Document, whilst also buttressing his own arguments by noting how the Damascus Document relates Isaiah 56, Ezekiel 44, and Zadok’s house in Samuel. Likewise, Ben Sira shows support for all priests, with no indication of the Sons of Zadok vs. Levites. And the Sadduccees of Josephus also had no literary or historical relationship to Zadok. He merges the evidence to validate historical skepticism about the historical reality of Zadokites.

Overall, the book has three major strengths and contributions. First, the detailed redaction-criticism and inner-biblical interpretation of Ezekiel 44, and the new composition history therein, provide compelling evidence for the composition history. Consequently, the history also results in better clarification of the historicity of the Zadokites. As MacDonald notes, discovering the beginning of the sons of Zadok paradoxically results in bringing the Zadokites of scholarly invention to an end” (148). In this manner, I appreciate that MacDonald is attempting to tie up this “loose-end”. Although many have already set out to do so, and have done so, he provides compelling evidence and analysis to cease history dependent on Zadokites, such as the idea that Qumran was started by sons of Zadok. Finally, his discussion provides a new framework by which to understand the relationship between priests and Levites, especially as it relates to the composition of the Pentateuch.

Even in the midst of high praise for the study, the theoretical thrust of the whole book is somewhat troublesome. Chapter Three, though, is helpful in how it connects the study to history, and provide significance beyond mere interpretation. Without a doubt, Priestly Rule by Nathan MacDonald will be a valuable contribution, especially to studies on the Second Temple Period, the priesthood, Zadok, and interpretation of various portions of biblical literature.