“Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire”


Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Edited by Diana Edelman, Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley, and Philippe Guillaume. Tubingen, Germany: 2016, Mohr Siebeck, pp. 390. 

Following in the footsteps of the volume entitled Assessing Biblical and Classical Sources for the Reconstruction of Persian Influence, History, and Culture (click here for my review), Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire seeks to explore more broadly the question of toleration and cultural exchange. In particular, the various articles demonstrates how the popular tendency of Persian tolerance is better understood a political strategy.

The book is divided into two parts, “Trends in Emerging Judaism” and “Other Religious Trends in the Persian Empire.” Both titles are self-explanatory as to their respective content. As will become apparent throughout reviews of each contribution, the volume offers a wealth of approaches. These various approaches are important to ongoing scholarship, as they offer alternative approaches, new data, and new conclusions to old problems. In an academic atmosphere where interdisciplinary work is becoming more important, this volume is refreshing.  

James Anderson begins by positing two types of dialectics in order to account for competing perspectives of monotheism (“Yahweh alone”) and polytheism (“Yahweh… alongside other gods). These dialectical tensions are paradoxical and directional. The aforementioned were applied as rhetorical strategies by priestly-scribes in Yehud during the Persian Period, Anderson suggests. While his idea that priestly-scribes created dialectical tensions as a rhetorical strategy, his argument lacks well-developed textual analysis. Absence of this is problematic because even he carefully notes the limited evidence. When the argument is more developed, it may be more convincing.

Philip Davies applies the theory of “translatability” to monarchy. For “any presentation of a state’s patron deity as king… is a claim about the state itself and its ruler” (27). Notably, Davies is careful to recognizes the intercultural currents between regions and regional autonomy of thought. As an approach to the influence of Persian religion and empire upon Yehud, he offers an intriguing approach; however, it may be fruitful as well to consider “translatability” outside the period of Persian Yehud. Even so, Davies’ contribution is an important development and consideration in the impact of Persia upon religion in Yehud.

Russel Hobson argues “the cultural memory of the Yehudite Yahwists from the Persian period reflects a renewed interest in the ethnic divisions of the Transjordanian region” (52). Hobson approaches the issue by tracing both developments in text and archaeological evidence for regional population. Being geographically grounded, Hobson’s argument is important because it connects archaeological evidence, cultural memory, and textual evidence into a coherent theory of Yehud culture and ideas of ethnic divisions during the Persian period.

Philippe Guillaume considers the Zoroastrian calendar in order to shed light on emerging Judaisms during the Persian period. He notes, first, the relationship between the Zoroastrian calendar, which attributes the calendar and time itself to Ahura Mazda. Likewise, Genesis roots the calendar in creation and makes Yahweh the “origin of time.” Second, he argues that Mesopotamian elements in the Avestan calendar are due, in part to the the overthrowing of Nabonidus. Following Cyrus’ victory over Nabonidus, the Avestan calendar with its Mesopotamian elements reached Palestine sometime between the reign of Cambyses and Xerxes. Based on this, Guillaume asserts that the Biblical week, the “Semitic week,” is the legacy of Zoroastrianism and derived from it. One of the major issues with Guillaume’s contribution, interesting as it is, is the lack of any framework. He fails to offer any sort of clear framework for his argument in order to convey its significance. Additionally, he seems to imply that he is the first to consider that “Genesis 1 has more to do with the creation of a new calendar than with the creation of the universe” (61). He is not. Although I am unable to access them at the moment, I have read several articles and commentaries which draw out the fact that Genesis one is establishing a new calendar. In short, Guillaume’s contribution may have valuable information for understanding how the Avestan calendar influenced the Judean calendar; unfortunately, the article lacks a structure that actually helps the reader to understand what he is arguing for.

Lowell K. Handy argues that Josiah is not necessarily understood as a role model for leadership in the Persian period; rather, he is understood as “peg” where good Judean religious leaders could hang their beliefs. Overall, the argument is unclear. Additionally, the significance of the argument is unclear.

Christian Frevel and Katharina Psychny evaluate E. Stern’s argument concerning the origins and functions of cuboid incense burners. Specifically, they focus on their association with foreign cults. By examining the distribution of cuboid incense burners and iconography, Frevel and Pyschny push against the claim that cuboid incense burners are of Pheonician origin (Stern’s claim) is deficient, even though the cuboid incense burners do bear a distinctive style. They suggest, then, that the absence of incense burners from Yehud may have more to do with the economic situation than religious distinctiveness. I am particularly fond of this contribution because it moves beyond the issues of religious differences; however, their conclusion should include more serious consideration of the religious distinctiveness. Even if the “depressed regional economic situation in Yehud” in archaeology yields no incense burners, the depressed situation may also explain why Yehud religion developed how it did. Thus, religious distinctiveness should be considered when comparing Yehud with coastal areas or trade routes. This minor critique, though, does not take away the value of this contribution. Without a doubt, this is one of the best contributions, and most valuable, to the volume.

Following the focus on Yehud, Part II moves onto non-Judean religious trends in the Persian Empire.

Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley argues that Persians were not more “benevolent” than Assyrians. Like the Assyrians, their “benevolence” was political. Working through a wealth of data, Fitzpatrick presents a convincing and important argument that each empire, the Persians and Assyrians, “responded to the conditions they encountered and both could be wielders of terror and destruction as well as the sophisticated creators of diplomatic relations” (164). Overall, this article is extremely valuable and pushes against stereotypical representations of Persian benevolence as a religious practice. My only criticism with her work is that the boundary between political and religious is far too clear. Perhaps future work will consider the nuances of her conclusion when a more descriptive understanding of Persian/Assyrian politics/religion is considered as part of the conclusion.

Jason Silverman offers what he called “the bare outlines of what could be called an Achaemenid theology of kingship” (188). He approaches it through three major points: the figure of Yima, the topic of Achaemenid paradise, and Achaemenid rhetoric of peace through the concept of shiyati. For the figure of Yima, Silverman draws out his association with kingship. Following, he explores how the Persian concept of paradise was a micro-empire making a statement about the king himself. Additionally, he briefly considers how royal ideology used shiyati in order to connote their roles as “bringing in the perfection of the world through their efforts” (187). In short, Silverman argues that his outline of ‘royal theology’ offers a structure for analyzing the influence of Persia on elite circles. Overall, Silverman’s contribution is fantastic. His outlined royal theology enables future scholars to do further work on the interrelations between Persia and other nations during the Persian period. Although I’d like to see a more developed and firm structure, this is a wonderful starting point.

Yannick Muller considers how textual evidence of mutilation in linked to how Achaemenid Persia thought about the body and religion. First, he links the beheading of Leonidas and Cyrus the Younger to Sassanian Persia through the cult of Anahita. After examining practices in the Northern Pontic region and Scythian practices, Muller makes a strong claim about beheading: the cult of deities comparable to Anahita and the practice of beheading are rooted in Iranian culture. Having established a geographical and historical relationship between Iranian mutilation practices and Western Europe, he probes a similar issues relating the right hand and face mutilation. For each example of mutilation, Muller presents convincing textual evidence for the religious significance of mutilation in Achaemenid Persia. Without a doubt, this is one of the better contributions to the volume. It presents a new way of thinking about mutilation in history. More importantly, Muller successfully draws out world-understanding of ancient peoples. I am particularly interested in how Muller’s analysis may unlock a more thorough understanding of Judean-Persian relations. That is, Judean-Persian relations as it regards mutilation practices.

Diana Edelman analyzes iconography of the Sidonian double shekel. She first  reviews imagery in four groups of Sidonian coinage and contextualizes the motifs of all Sidonian coins. She concludes that the figure riding the chariot on the double shekel is meant to be the Great King of Persia. Needless to say, the erudite analysis of Edelman is strong and quite convincing. While the article is not well-structured and clear, the data and conclusions speak volumes. Most significantly, Edelman’s conclusions heralds a more nuanced understanding of how people groups in the Levant related to the Achaemenid Persian empire.

Mark Christian attempts to demonstrate how Phoenician religious contribution to the Persian fleet is minimized. Yet, it is still unclear exactly what Christian is arguing for. Even when he does put forth his conclusion it is problematic: “My inability to demonstrate a connection between Persian naval personnel, their gods, and their experiences at sea has proved disappointing. It also struck me as odd that so many details are missing. In spite of the danger of arguing from silence, I propose that Persian commanders and crew integrated their religious knowledge relative to weather and river gods” (312). This statement strikes me as odd, for it destabilizes any potential of his arguments. There is, though, nothing to destabilize. Most of the data from which he draws seems more than an amalgamation of incoherent data lacking cogency.

Damien Agut-Labordere briefly examines extant evidence for changes introduced by Achaemenid Persia to Egypt. Persian involvement in Egyptian temples during the reigns of Cambyses, Darius I, and Darius II, progressively increased. Cambyses abolished the donation network of Egyptian temples, only tempering it by exempting the temples from taxes to Persia. Darius I increased control over Egyptian finances through Persian administration. Darius II acted in a way which (1) confirmed Persian power and (2) maintained good political relations with the Memphite elite. His argument successfully pushes against Egyptological tendencies to understand Achaemenid religious tolerance as inadequate. Likewise, he offers strong evidence for a politically motivated “religious tolerance” within a small locale. Although it is the shortest contribution, it is one of the best written, most convincing, and most important contributions within the volume.

In a similar vein of Egyptology, Jared Krebsbach argues that Achaemenid patronage of Egyptian religious institutions (1) followed a non-interference rule and (2) allowed Persia to fulfill the proper pharaonic role as defenders of world order. Krebsbach considers hieroglyphic sources from the 27th dynasty in order to demonstrate this point. He provides additional evidence for politically driven patronage of particular Egyptian cults. His argument is important as it further the political intentions of Achaemenid Persian “religious toleration.” Like Agut-Labordere, Krebsbach provides a more localized example of Persian policies. Consequently, he offers a thoughtful argument against religious toleration and for political motivation of Persian policies.

Deniz Kaptan considers religious traditions in Achaemenid Anatolia through bullae with seal impressions and stelai fragments from Daskyleion. Daskyleion is important because it was the satrapal center of Achaemenid Anatolia. Though analysis of these artifact, Kaptan illustrates a mixture of new Anatolian cults during the period as well as active, older cults. Thus, Anatolian religious traditions during Persian rule is shown to have maintained great diversity. As with the majority of contributions to the volume, Kaptan constructs archaeological and textual data coherently in order to draw out a more localized example of how Achaemenid Persian religion impacted its various satrapies. This contribution in particular is interesting because it offers (potentially) a starting point for study of the relationship between the Levant and the Aegean region.

In conclusion, this volume, Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire, is a mixed bag. Some contributions contribute substantially to our understanding of the impact of Persian policies regarding religion; yet, some contributions fail to offer a coherent argument. The bad apples aside, the volume is wonderful. It offers a variety of approaches, new and renewed, to the study of the Achaemenid Persian empire and how it impacted various regions. More broadly, it is refreshing as it ushers in a renewed understanding of Achaemenid Persian empire ideology as it relates to religion. I highly recommend this work for studies on (1) emerging Judaism, (2) Achaemenid Persian studies broadly, and (3) the movement and exchange of ideas during Achaemenid Persian rule.


*I’d like to express my gratitude to Mohr Siebeck for providing a review-copy in exchange for my honest opinion.


“From Mesopotamia to the Mishnah” by Jonathan S. Milgram

Jonathan S. Milgram. From Mesopotamia to the Mishnah: Tannaitic Inheritance Law in its Legal and Social Contexts. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 164. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2016, 201 pp..

Jonathan Milgram’s erudite study on tannaitic inheritance law contextualizes rulings on inheritance within the framework of the ancient Near East, Greek, and, most importantly, Roman law, which is contemporaneous with tannaitic law. Through a comparative legal approach, he explores how the legal collections “overlap conceptually, procedurally, and on occasion, even terminologically” (7). Naturally we are inclined to point towards biblical antecedents for the development of certain aspects within tannaitic law. Fundamental to Milgram’s thesis, though, is the lack of scriptural exegesis in tannaitic law discussing issues of inheritance. In other words, “new laws not only drop archaic biblical institutions but also embrace new methods that the rabbis observe” (27). Below I provide a summary of his arguments accompanied by my commentary.

Milgram first introduces standard methodological concerns: brief discussion of theories of legal development, ultimately focusing on the comparative legal approach; a framework for the relation between ancient law and the socio-economic environment of the tannaim; and a summary of his sources and proceeding arguments. In short, he sets out “to demonstrate the degree to which tannaitic inheritance laws are likely the product of their ancient legal, social, and economic contexts” (38)(Introduction). While it is good that Milgram utilizes such a broad set of ancient legal codes and demonstrates exceptional understanding of them through a comparative legal approach, his overall conclusions may have been sturdier with inclusion of the social and economic histories of the various ancient laws. For, inclusion of social and economic histories of ancient laws would have uncovered the relationship between law (ancient laws) and reality (social and economic histories). Such patterns within history would perhaps offer more cemented conclusions and legitimization for Milgram’s argument.

Establishing the origins of partibility, methods for disposing of assets, and capacity for transferring property in tannaitic law, Milgram claims the components do not originate in biblical law; rather, they emerge from the adaptation of Roman legal vocabulary and conceptualization within a nuclear family in an urbanized setting with private landholding patterns (Chapter One). For, biblical law fails to distinguish between inheritance and gift and no rabbinic scriptural exegesis exists for the inheritance laws, both primary aspects driving his arguments. Ancient Near Eastern and Roman laws of inheritance function, though, in a similar way as tannaitic Law. Roman law, though, is most similar because of the legal conceptualizations of mattanah (Latin: donatio) and yerushah (Latin: hereditas). While already established as parallel terms, Milgram’s analysis furthers the importance of their relationship by using them to highlight the tannaitic social and economic context. Additionally, through philological-historical analysis meant to highlight the distinction between gifting and inheriting in tannaitic law, he suggests mBB 8:5 contains evidence for a tannaitic approach which permits testate succession, as opposed the more commonly accepted intestate succession. Through highlighting these various similarities to Roman law and uncovering a suppressed tannaitic approach, Milgram demonstrates well the possibility that his observations affirm the impact of the social and economic reality of the rabbis upon tannaitic law.

Moving on to the question of possible origins for tannaitic flexibility in firstborn inheritance law, Milgram demonstrates how the legal flexibility developed due to the cultural heritage and contemporary horizons, even to the point of declaring no firstborn. In terms of cultural heritage, the flexibility of firstborn inheritance seems to develop from ancient Near Eastern and Biblical sources, sources which evidence flexibility in the status and inheritance of the firstborn. Only with more contemporary horizons of Greek and Roman legal writings, though, does tannaitic law fully develop due to an (1)urbanized tannaitic Palestine and (2) absence of firstborn allotment among Greeks and Romans. Within this chapter, clarification as to what constitutes biblical law in Milgram’s approach would have helped to clarify some of his arguments. For, in some interpretations, law is just as much the patriarchal narratives as it is the book of Deuteronomy.

In an exploration of testate succession in Tannnaitic law, Milgram thoroughly explores for the nearest legal parallel of testate succession in tannaitic law (Chapter Three). Accordingly, he argues that R. Yohanan ben Beroka introduces testate succession for agnates. After examining ancient Near Eastern and Greek parallels, these traditions are excluded as possibly connected because they tend to include adoption, something absent in tannaitic inheritance law. Only in Roman legal discourse, sui heredes, do we see a reasonable parallel. While Milgram emphasizes the context of contemporary Roman law, thereby further establishing the influence of Roman law upon tannaitic law, highlighting appropriation of the biblical model, as a partial antecedent to tannaitic law, into the tannna’s own Roman-Palestine, socio-political context is necessary. Consider his comment about R. Yohanan ben Beroka: “In that sense, the tanna remains fiathful to a fundamental tenet of the biblical model: the land remains in family hands” (95). Based on this, perhaps tannaitic testate succession may be, in part, an appropriation of biblical tradition, albeit a conjectural suggestion.

Shifting to inheritance by daughters, Milgram argues three major principles of tannaitic inheritance law (collection of an inheritance share, receipt of a dowry, and maintenance) possibly developed in a context of Roman law (Chapter Four). While the “cultural valuation of daughters” is evident in both Roman and tannaitic culture, actions of Romans, as opposed to law, demonstrate the valuation and tannaim legislation demonstrates valuation. Additionally, his analysis of mBB 8:4, one tannaitic tradition approaches sons and daughters as equal in inheritance.

Following this discussion, Milgram considers inheritance by wives. With the lack of biblical precedent and scriptural interpretations for tannaitic innovations of collection of maintenance and residence or payment of the ketubbah debt as two approaches to widow’s benefits, he argues the tannaitic law developed via local practices which rabbis may have observed and via ancient legal traditions from throughout the region (Chapter Five). A statement within the chapter raises, though, a question of his framework and, consequently, methodology. In short, he claims the Bible was authored in an ancient Near Eastern context (139). Although this is absolutely true, it fails to consider the whole picture. Scholars recognize the influence of Greek ideas and culture upon the development of biblical traditions. Thus, more serious consideration of the (possible) relationship between Greek and biblical traditions might enable a better understanding and timeline of the development of legal tradition in the Mediterranean.

Additionally, Milgram’s treatment of Ruth is poor. While it would be reasonable to conclude upon the fact that Naomi is a sort of trustee for future sons, he notes “the possibility of polemics in Ruth… impairs our ability to penetrate in what way… the book is representative of historical law or local custom” (140). This view, unfortunately, is very limited. In his recent commentary about the book of Ruth, Jeremy Schipper illustrates why Ruth should not necessarily be read as a polemic text. Milgram should have further engaged with Ruth. For such a rich repository of questions and issues of inheritance as found in the book of Ruth, the lack of discussion of Ruth is disappointing.

Having illustrated how tannaitic inheritance law was possibly influenced by contact with Roman law and cultural heritage of ancient Near Eastern and Greek law, he entertains the issue of how Jewish is Jewish inheritance law. As he puts it, “we are witness to competing and conflicting traditions that are, at times, interwoven with one another, waiting to be discovered and mined for the richness they add to the complex web of tannaitic inheritance traditions” (146).

As a result of Milgram’s study, we more clearly observe the relationship between Roman, Greek, and ancient Near Eastern laws and tannnaitic traditions. He does this by revealing various tannaitic traditions throughout his work, traditions previously unobserved. In short, he allows us to better understand tannaitic law within its ancient, legal context. Hopefully future scholars will further elucidate the complex web of laws from Jewish traditions and other ancient legal tradition and how they possibly influence each other. For the scholar who does this, Milgram’s monograph is an important reference.

“Reading David and Goliath in Greek and Hebrew” by Benjamin J. M. Johnson

ReadingDavidandGoliathinGreekandHebrewBenjamin J. M. Johnson. Reading David and Goliath in Greek and Hebrew. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe 82. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2015, xiv + 275 pp., 79,00 €  (sewn paper).

Benjamin J. M. Johnson (PhD at University of Durham) analyzes the nuances of the LXX translation of 1 Samuel 16-18 in order to understand the unique focuses of the LXX as a literary document in its own right. Through Robert Altar’s definition of literary analysis (Revised ed. New York: Basic Books, 2011, p. 13), Johnson examines the minor contours of the LXX in the Goliath story. His methodology employs three parameters: 1 Reigns 16-18 is a Greek literary text in its own right, the MT and 4QSama are used when the assist in discerning what the translator is attempting to communicate, and the final product “is interpreted as a final literary communication with reference to how it has communicated its source” (20). As lately I havebeen indulging myself in some of Robert Altar’s commentaries and translations, I have come to greatly appreciate his focus on the literary artistry of the Hebrew Bible. Consequently, I admire Johnson’s focus on reading 1 Samuel/Reigns 16-18 as its own work of art. His methodology should be employed in other reading of Septuagint texts because it avoids an a priori assumption of the MT’s value over the LXX.

Chapters 2-4 each analysis 1 Reigns 16-18, Chapter 5 analyzes the Hebrew reading to draw out how it compares to the Greek reading, and Chapter 6 summarizes the previous analyses.

One feature I appreciate about Chapters 2-4 is reflective of his methodology: he still discusses the Vorlage, MT, and 4QSama. Although the majority of Greek and Hebrew comparative linguistic analysis takes place within the footnotes, it still establishes his work as a valuable place to begin any sort of research about the MT. Another major strength is Johnson’s discussion of verbal variation. In utilizing the MT to elucidate the LXX, he notes that translator switches “from imperfect to aorist verbs [in 17:34-36] despite the consistent chain of weqatal forms in the Hebrew” (94). This translation changes the narrative texture to one in which foreshadows the battle between Goliath and David. Although such an issue is often absent to the average reader of the LXX, Johnson’s ability to elucidate and put reason to the translators choice draws out the translators theological focus within his own time period. Perhaps translation choices like Johnson draws out in 1 Reigns 17:34-36 will help to expand our understanding of other LXX translations.

One critique I have of Johnson’s work is that he doesn’t focus enough on a more contextualized reading of the LXX. Although he draws on non-biblical authors, it only comprises roughly 12% of the primary source material. Johnson does notes that the LXX should be read at a literary text in its own right; however, in order to do so it is important to interact with contemporary Greek literary texts, texts potentially informative of the translators choices. Choices may have been merely linguistic or culturally dependent. Regardless, more interaction with contemporary Greek literature would greatly strengthen his work.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Johnson’s work. Like most volumes in FAT II series by Mohr Siebeck, it is a highly specialized work; however, the Septuagint focus of this work, namely his methodology and study of the literary sensitivity of the translator, holds potential to influence future works which analyze the LXX in its own literary right. This book is best for research on the LXX, Samuel or Reigns, and analysis of the distinct, nuanced literary aims between various manuscripts.

“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.