Again, More Notes on “Civilizations of the Ancient Near East”

Myth and Mythmaking in Canaan and Ancient Israel by Mark Smith (2031-2041)

  • Three stereotypical explanations of myth from a monotheistic perspective
    • monotheistic theology equals faith, while myth is told stories.
    • holy texts of monotheism leave no room for myth, which is polytheistic
    • monotheism is based in history, but ancient religions, which had myths, are not.
  • Mythic continuity between ancient Israel, Canaan, and Ugartic texts.
  • Baal Cycle and Epic of Aqhat are major Ugaritic myths.
    • Baal Cycleenvisions of cosmic battle for political control. Expressed in terms of kingship.
      • By modern standard of course, this constitutes religious because it involved the gods.
  • Most material is inscriptions mentioning gods and names with theophoric elements.
  • Traditions of Tyrian god Melqart may reflect Ugaritic tradition
    • Namely, those of Baal and cult of divinaized royal ancestors, present at Ugarit.
    • Meqlart is the dead hero who “awakens from the dead”.
  • Best source for Canaanite myth is Phil of Byblos’s Pheonician History
    • Embedded in the work of Eusebius and Porphyry.
  • MYTHIC MATERIAL IN ISRAEL
    • Early evidence does not distingush greatly between Israel and neighboring regional religions.
    • Even with developing Israelite religion, other gods of Pheonicia, Edom, etc. existed within the Israelite-Judean religious context.
      • So, El, Ball, Yahweh, a dynastic god; divine council, Asherah, etc.
    • Held onto a sort of cult for the deceased and concept of divine council.
      • Council was at a low level.
    • Originally El was probably the name of the deity supporting the group.
    • Ex. 6:2-3
      • Identifies El Shaddy, El being the older god, with Yahweh.
      • Reflects that Yahweh was previously unknown; now, then it was El Shaddai.
    • Much language previously associated with Baal is used
      • Baal Shamem, though, is the Phoencian storm-god.
      • Israel also had old Levantine/Canaanite imagery of Baal in its memory.
    • Much shared imagery between HB and Baal Cycle
  • Mythic imagery was political
    • Mythic language was used as
      • way to tie divine and human kings
      • unite tribal groups
      • legitimize a ruler
  • People drew on the imagery found in things like the Baal Cycle because everybody knew it, the poor, uneducated, rich, and educated.
  • Canaanite literature was more anthropomorphic; our knowledge of Judean myth in that period reduced anthropomorphisms.

Theology, Priests, and Worship in Canaan and Ancient Israel by Karel van der Toorn (p. 2043-2058)

  • Dichotomy of Israelite religion vs. Canaanite religion should be rejected.
  • In the Iron Age (1200-500 BCE), “Israelite preachers labeled all non-Yahwhistic practices “canaanite.” A strict and uncompromising Yahwism, itself the outcome of a long process, was retrospectively presented as the original religion of the Israelites” (2043).
  • van der Toorn focuses on the fundamental “common theology” of the religious culture in ancient Syro-Palestine.
  • GODS
    • gods of ancient world inhabited the earth
      • Leviticus, god is in the tabernacle; Genesis, god chooses the enter the earth. Yahweh has a physicality in Israelite memory.
    • No such thing as “faith”.
    • Worldy phenomena was heavenly, the gods at work.
    • dwelt at fringes, such as mountains
      • Baal of Ugarit at Mount Zaphon.
      • Yahweh of Israel from “Mountainous area in the southeast of Palestine” (2044).
    • It is mistake to reduce gods to mere personifications of nature.
      • “reality of the Syro-Palestinian gods was not metaphorical but personal” (2044)
      • They had thoughts, emotions, will power, bodies, albeit incredibly large bodies.
    • Fundamental difference was in terms of power, longevity, authority, influence, and knowledge.
    • Deity is thought to be seated on a celestial throne
      • cf. Temple imagery of Ps. 133
      • Zion is the Temple/Palace of Yahweh.
    • Syro-Palestinian religions shared the idea of a “fundamentally unfathomable divine essence… in the notion of holiness” (2045).
  • PANHEONS
    • Oldest pantheon is from Ebla (c. 2450-2250)
      • Dagan is the leader of the pantheon, followed by Adda (Addu/Adad/Hadad)
      • Dif. Adads worshiped in near cities
    • Cthonic deities played a role in ancient Syro-Palestinian religious thought.
    • Baal and Hadad developed into distinct deities, one Canaanite and the other Aramean.
      • Different forms of Hadad based on location.
    • Phoenicia
      • Main goddess is Ashtarte, associated with Baal Shamem.
      • Baal Shamem is also associate with Baal Malage and Zaphon.
        • Seafaring gods.
    • Philistines worshiped Dagan.
    • Transjordan inhabited by Israelite, Ammonites, and Moabites, according to HB.
      • Milcom of the Ammonites, Chemosh of the Moabites
      • Both these deities are also situated at Ugarit.
      • Group of underworld deities called the Shaddayin
        • Occurs in Ps. 106.36 as the god of child sacrifice.
    • Edom
      • Regarded by Israel as kindred.
      • Religious, this was very real; Yahweh, national god of Judah and Israel, is often associated with Mount Paran and Mount Seir.
      • “it is the nearly unanimous verdict of historians of Israelite religion that Yahweh has southeast Semitic origins, whether his first worshiper were Kenites, MIdians, or Edomnites
        • Yahweh is not a traditional member of the West Semitic Pantheon
        • Although some characteristics of Baal was transferred to Yahweh, Yahweh’s origins were not in the West Semitic pantheon (p. 2047).
  • National Theologies.
    • Each communities in Syro-Palestinian region has one or two primary gods
      • For city, tribe, or nation.
      • I.e. Adad of Aleppo is not the same as Adad of Damascus.
    • Polytheism was counterbalanced by “a particularism in the dovotion”.
    • Notion of inheritance is employed outside of Israel
      • Ugaritic texts call Mt. Zaphon the “inheritance of Baal”; netherworld the inheritance of Mot, god of death” (2048)
    • Still on the notion of inheritance
      • Philo of Byblos wrote:
        • Kronos gave Byblos to Baaltis
        • Beirut to Poseidon
        • Egypt to Thoth
    • Covenant, perhaps, popularily in Israelite religion because Yahweh was not always the god of Israel
      • He had to compete with other West Semitic gods.
      • “It may be surmised that he championed this covenant theology precisely because of the actual polytheism of his day” (2048).
        • Use Deut. 6:4 as an example.
      • Yahweh was not automatically the god of Israel
        • So it had to be constructed theologically.
    • While this approach to Yahweh’s centrality, namely the aforementioned, is unique, there are other West Semitic parallels
      • Baal at Ugarit, Dagan among Philistines, Chemosh among Moabites
        • These were the main gods; other existed, but they were lesser.
    • “Devotion to the national god became a sign of political allegiance and patriotism” (2048).
      • True, but the terms van der Toorn uses have far too much baggage in the modern period.
  • Religion and politics
    • King played an important role in religion
      • 2 Kings 11:17
        • priest Jehoiada “made a covenant between Yahweh and the king and the people, that they should be Yahweh’s people; and also between the king and the people” (2049)
      • “So intricate were their links [palace and temple] that it is often difficult to say where religion stops and politics begin and vice versa.
    • wrong to say that religion was a “state ideology in disguise” (2049).
    • priests of royal sanctuaries were like civil servants.
    • Political authorities tried to maintain power through policies on religious life.
      • Saul tried to get rid of necromancers and wizards (1 Sam. 28:3).
      • David transfered ark from Kirath-jearim to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6)
        • A political AND religious move.
      • King Jeroboam embellished Bethel and Dan sactuaries/changes date of autumn festival (1 Kings 12:25-33).
    • Incriptions throughout Syro-Palestinian area show that kings were divine elected.
      • Lady of Byblos made Yehawilk king of Byblos
      • Baalshamein make Zakkur king of Hamath and Lu’ash
      • We see this is Psalms through things like Ps. 2:7 and 110:3, both of which say, “I have begotten you.
        • Divine paternity legitimized his position.
      • Some double rulers as king and priest.
        • king of Byblos was also the priest of the Lady of Byblos (2049)
      • Some northern Aramiac kingdom referred king as a steward of the storm-god Hadad.
      • We see this in Israel as well when kings are reported to offer sacrifices at altars.
        • Find these references.
    • Ancient Israelite religion had a procession of the ark into the temple to commemorate creation, which prolaimed Yahweh’s kingship’
      • Also happens in LBA Ugarit and Emar.
      • And in Babylon.
  • Temples
    • Many open-air shrines throughout 1st and 2nd millennium.
    • Some cult installations were expanded into temples, or palaces for the temple.
      • E(2).KAL is a palace in Akkadian or a temple for a diety.
    • Temples typically contained images, and thus housing, for various gods.
      • Ugarit had temples for El, Baal, Dagan, and others.
      • Emar had temples for Ninurta, Adad, Ninkur, and others.
      • Iron Age Judah: Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem.
        • image of Baal and Asherah referred to as “vessels” (2 Kings 23:4)
        • Hostpilaity for worship of sun-god and Tammuz (Ezekial 8:14-160 (2051).
    • Juridical function of temples based on theology.
      • The judge was the deity.
    • “The situation at the Israelite temple at Bethel is probably characteristic of many Syro-Palestinian sanctuaries” (2051).
      • Amos encountered a priest at a temple in Bethel while prophecying against him.  (Amos 7:10-13)
    • In short, temple was central in Syro-Palestinian religion; it was the intersection of heaven and earth; the crossroads of religion, social, economic, juridical, and politics (2052).
  • Priest
    • Priests needed to be unblemished throughout Syro-Palestinian region.
      • Cf. Leviticus 21:16-24
    • In Emar, they had the sacrificer, carrier of divine statue, diviner, singer, spouse of god, etc. (2052).
  • Worship
    • Three types of offering in Israel
      • Burnt, flour, and wine.
    • These were also offerings at Ugarit and Iron Age Phoenicia (2053).
    • Also, sheep, lamb, cows, birds, cereal, fruit, libations of win/hony/ghee/milk.
    • Some meant sacrificing animals and then eating it.
      • Meat was a rarity.
      • Usually done for thankgiving for divine favor, vow payment, or spontaneous desire (Lev. 7:11-18).
    • Annual sacrifice in Autumn, sacrifice at time of plower and sowing (October and December; end of harvent (Spring) (2053).
    • Hymns considered part of temple worship.
      • Similarities between a text at Ugarit (1.101:1-4) and Ps. 29, showing a shared tradition.
      • See all other Psalms, of course.
    • Various gestures for worship, symbolic of social relations
      • bow down, bend over, etc. (2054).
    • Sometimes, fees had to be paid to priest for sacrifice (2 Kings 12:16)
      • This also happens in late examples of Punic tariffs which require payment to priest for sacrifice.
    • Go to temples to get oracles
      • Some prophets were actually paid, some were not.
  • When I am ready to write, read pg. 2056-57 on ISRAELITE MONOTHEISM. This is an incredibly important thing to focus on when I write.

How Should We Think of Religion in Ancient Israel?

 

merneptah_israel_stele_cairo

The Merneptah Stele (originally at Wikipedia)

In a 2015 article written by Christoph Uehlinger, he questions how scholars who study ancient Israel think about ancient Israelite religion within its larger southern Levantine and West Semitic context. His point is that how scholars approach ancient Israelite religion is often problematic.  They either argue that “Iron Age Israel was no different at all from “Canaanite” or “West Semitic” religion” (13). On the other hand, some scholars consider ancient Israel to be the distinct “other” in the West Semitic religious milieu.

On these grounds, he challenges scholars of religion, especially biblical scholars: how can we re-think our approaches to ancient Israelite religion in a way that accomplishes the two major tasks, namely situating ancient Israelite religion within a broader Near Eastern, West Semitic, and Levantine context and simultaneously conceputlizing the distinctiveness of ancient Israelite religion? Uehlinger says it best: “the bigger challenge lying before us is to reconceptualize distinctiveness in terms of diversity without neglecting the equally obvious, and plausible, commonalities” (14).

This tension between commonalities and differences is exactly what I am interested in exploring. Though, even if scholars develop a model that accurate portrays the tensions of ancient Israelite and Canaanite religion (or should I say Israelite, Edomite, Moabite religions?), the greater challenge will be finding a way to effectively communicate the understandings to the public. Even if complex, nuanced, and thorough models are developed for approaching and interpreting religion in a West Semitic and South Levantine context, those models will not be comprehensive for the public.

The question I raise, then, is this: in midst of developing new approach to “West Semitic religion,” how might we simultaneously work to make the analyses comprehensible for a public audience?

 

Uehlinger, Christoph. “Distinctive or diverse? Conceptualizing ancient Israelite religion in its southern Levantine setting.” In Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel (1), vol. 4, 2015. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck.