Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Apocalypse of Adam

Introduction to the Text: 

The Apocalypse of Adam is preserved in a manuscript discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1946. It is one of many manuscripts of gnostic secret revelations. In this particular text, Adam communicates knowledge to his son Seth, the progenitor of the race of gnostics. In the story, he receives messages from three figures. Three stories are revealed, all of which find biblical precedents: the great Flood, re-population of the world, and  “a cosmic conflagration that is perhaps based on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah” (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:707). Each event is explained as the creator God’s attempt to destroy the race of Seth. At the end of the text, the author equate baptisms with knowledge.

God Judging Adam 1795 by William Blake 1757-1827

God Judging Adam 1795 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939 (http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05063)

Because dating the text is difficult, G. Macrae dates it anytime between the first and fourth centuries CE, more likely earlier than later (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:708). Present form of the text, though, occurred through a growth process of narrative and language elements. Although we may be tempted to consider it either a Jewish or Christian text, depiction of the Illuminator of Knowledge, a major figure within the text, is neither absolutely one or the other. Thus, it may represent a transition period from a form of apocalyptic Judaism to Gnosticism, the latter being a distinct system of practices and beliefs. Macrae suggests that it reflects “an encounter between Jewish practitioners of baptism and sectarian gnostics, who diverge from them on this issue in particular” (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:709).

Musings on the Mythological Background for the Apocalypse of Adam

As I read through this text, I was intrigued by the implicit and explicit references to Greek mythology. I list a few examples below:

Text Reference
“Then God, the ruler of the aeons and the powers, separated us…” (ApAdam 1:4)

 

 

The idea that Adam and Eve were once a single androgynous being reflects the androgyne myth (Aristophanes’s Speech from Plato’s Symposium)

 

 

“And God will say to Noah – whom the nations will call Deucalion” (ApAdam 3:8)

 

 

In the Greek flood story, Deucalion is the hero (See Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 1.7.2; Pseuo-Lucian, De Dea Syria 12-13)

 

 

“He is a drop. It came from heaven to earth. Dragons brought him down to caves” (ApAdam 7:24)

 

 

“The infant Zeus is said to have been hidden and nourished in a cave; cf. Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.1.6-7” (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:717, footnote j)

 

 

“Of the nine Muses on separated away” (ApAdam 7:31)

 

 

Although this reference is not to any particular story, the Apocalypse of Adam continue to note that the Muse became androgynous and conceived. This is a common motif in Greek myth (See Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.3.5)

 

 

Although this list of references is quite brief, it does well to highlight how Greek mythology informed the way in which the author of the Apocalypse of Adam approached and viewed the world and history. Each reference to Greek mythology was appropriated for his specific purpose. No doubt he was influenced by Greek myth. At the same time, no doubt he viewed the world in a way unique to him and his community.

My point is that, as people viewing texts 2,000 years after the fact, it is important to recognize two aspects of every culture: (1) each culture should be permitted to stand independently and read on their own terms, and (2) we should recognize that each culture influences the other. Seeing that texts are products of cultures, these aspects are equally applicable to texts. In the case of the Apocalypse of Adam, Greek mythology and thought influenced the text; however, the text is also an independent testament of a particular historical situation and worldview. Balancing these two aspects is one of the greatest challenges when reading ancient texts and seeking to understand how ideas developed.

*For those who read Pseudepigrapha Saturday consistently, please be aware that I will be wrapping up my Pseudepigrapha Saturday posts for the foreseeable future. I am doing this because I start at the University of Chicago mid-September. While I still plan on using my blog as a way to study (i.e. posting about major texts in my courses, posting about approaches and methodologies, etc.), I will not be posting on a weekly, consistent basis. 

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Ancient Israel, Literature, and Context

One reason that I find ancient Israel, along with its literature and ancient context, Alma Memeto be so fascinating is its place historically. During the periods in which ancient Israelite religion and culture developed, it was usually under a foreign power, or at least the threat of a foreign power, namely Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Persian, or Roman power(s). Even when they operated autonomously, the shadows of great empires recognized their value and sought to rule the Judean region. It is in these contexts that the majority of literature and religious ideas were formed.

In other words, ancient Israel developed in constant tension. They never had the opportunity to be settled, as did Egypt and Mesopotamia, both of which were protected by large geographical boundaries and enabled to grow extensively due to their available resources. Ancient Israel, while it did have some beneficial geographical boundaries, was not enabled to grow extensively due to their lack of available resources. This lack of resources resulted in a culture rooted in constant tension. I suspect that it was the very tension that allowed ancient Israel to thrive and always maintain presence and life, even in exile.

Tensions are a huge aspect of what drives my interest in the Hebrew Bible, Pseudepigrapha, and other ancient literature. To this day humans feels tensions in their contexts when they don’t live a privileged lifestyle. And to observe and take note of how, historically speaking, people have dealt with those tensions is beautiful and awe-inspiring. Perhaps Tennessee Williams’ character Alma said it best: “To me, well, that is the secret, the principle back of existence, the everlasting struggle and aspiration for more than our human limits have placed in our reach” (From Summer in Smoke by Tennessee Williams).

 

“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 Context of Ancient Egyptian Kings

When Moses is leading the people out of Egypt, what is the Pharaoh like? One of the most obvious facts was that the heart of Pharaoh was hardened. But what was the background of this? Though dating between 2400 and 2000 BC, the ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts shed some light on this question. The text soon to follow displays the traditional pride (a term meant to be neutral) and power of an Egyptian pharaoh. From utterances 273-274, Faulkner titles them The king hunts and eats the gods. The following is an excerpt from the text:

“The King’s neck is on his trunk. / The King is the Bull of the sky, / Who conquers(?) at will, / Who lives on the being of every god, / Who eats their entrails(?), / Even of those who come with their bodies full of magic” (Faulkner, 80).

When the Exodus occurs in Egypt, after Yahweh has demonstrated his power against Pharaoh, and more importantly the Egyptian gods, Pharaoh has fallen further than he has ever fallen. Thus, his attempt to redeem pride and honor by chasing the fleeing Israelite population is essential to the validity of his rule. Furthermore, this text also demonstrates why there does not seem to be any record of an Israelite population enslaved by Egypt. To do so would require the Pharaoh to admit his defeat and the defeat of Egyptian gods. The loss of Israelite slaves is no little thing.

So, if a person ever states that Israelite enslavement is historically incorrect, remember that no empire establishing or attempting to establish a empire would record such a loss within their historical court records. And, when reading the Bible, know that Pharaoh’s decision to free the Israelite population is no small deal: Pharaoh placed his honor and power on the line.

Faulkner, R. O. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts,. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969.