Friday, September 23, 2016

Rituals are minimal...

Persuasive agency is the only kind of human agency found in Texts 5-15. As we have seen, the biblical speech is presented as meaningful in context, non-prescribed, and conforming to the specific situation of the speaker. Gestures and manual rites are minimal or absent. In 1 Chr 21:26 (cf. 2 Sam 24:25) David demonstrates ritual agency only after the apotropaic intercessory speech has been received—and uses an ad hoc ritual prescribed for this particular occasion only, without direct discourse. All of these features present agency in addressing the divine as similar to agency in addressing powerful human superiors.—Forestalling Doom page 233

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Unlike the portraits of the other gods in these apotropaic intercessory texts, YHWH is often shown as making room for human responses to his plans before enacting them. Texts 5, 6, 13, 14, and 15 show YHWH as secretly or not-so-secretly inviting intercession, or at least pausing before acting in expectation of a response. In Gen 18:17-22, YHWH explicitly awaits Abraham’s response, and in 1 Chr 21:15, he stays the angel’s hand, giving time for David to intercede. Less obvious are the phrases “Leave me be” and “Leave me alone,” in Exod 32:10 and Deut 9:14. As we have seen in Sections and, however, these seeming rejections actually serve as “backhanded” invitations for intercession. Although YHWH does not always accede to human desires, he does so often enough—and thoroughly enough—to show that he attends to such protest. As Patrick D. Miller notes, YHWH must be affected by intercession to some degree, or he would not bother prohibiting it on occasion (see, e.g., Jer 7:16; 11:14; 14:11-12).—Forestalling Doom page 231

<idle musing>
Fascinating idea, isn't it? God wants us to intercede! May we rise to the challenge!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Circular reasoning

Based on the notion that persuasive speech is tailored to its presumed audience, we can learn something about cultural perceptions of the gods by examining the rhetoric addressed to them. Rhetorical strategies in the namburbi hymns suggest a view of these gods as king-like figures granting an audience to the beneficiary with the intercessor’s help. The deities are offered the gifts of food, drink, incense, praise, and other elements of protocol adapted from the human court to the needs of the ritual and the gods (including the setting and props such as portable altars). In these acts we see the assumption that the gods, like kings, are motivated by glorification and offerings. The praise concentrates on those aspects of the divine personality that the intercessor and supplicant wish to enhance: compassion and love toward humanity and a sense of responsibility for the supplicant’s well-being. Apparently, the deities are assumed to want to stay true to the glorious reputations broadcast in these hymns. The praise-vow in Text 1 indicates Šamaš’s assumed desire for human adherents. Additionally, the ritual structure presupposes a divine interest in following protocol. We see orderly, quasi-legal processes in the juridical language in the hymns as well as in the causative speech acts formally establishing a substitute in Text 1’s second oral rite. The implied success in the progression of ritual steps suggests the view that the deities are, for the most part, accommodating to the intercessors’ efforts and the supplicant’s needs.

The rhetoric of the causative and hybrid speech acts presents a somewhat different image of the gods. Rather than appealing to the gods’ personal reasons for desiring the ritual’s success, here vivid analogies are designed to entice the gods into transforming reality in the ways depicted. The gods are assumed to recognize and validate the conventional associations on which the persuasive analogies are based. There is a circular process here: the gods are understood to have given humans rituals containing verbal techniques and references that the gods themselves would find particularly compelling. This circularity supports the view that the gods desire the rituals’ success.—Forestalling Doom pages 229–30

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Summary of Intercession in the Hebrew Bible

The texts suggest that apotropaic intercession was considered to be generally, but not universally, effective, although even in cases where it appears to have failed YHWH refrains from wiping out all Israel. Yet intercession merely has a partial effect; the HB emphasizes YHWH’s freedom of action throughout. He “does what he wishes” (cf. Pss 115:3, 135:6, Jonah 1:14). YHWH may “change his mind” based on repentance, apotropaic intercession, direct appeal by the targeted victim, or YHWH’s own “good nature”; however, he also seemingly disregards much human intervention and persists in his planned punishment.

In sum, then, biblical apotropaic intercessory utterances aim to persuade the deity, rely on many of the same rhetorical strategies and arguments as supplications to human authorities, and are generally portrayed as effective at reducing or appropriately targeting divinely planned doom. As for the theology of the intercession proper, apotropaic intercessory appeals depict a deity moved by human passion as well as pain, a deity sensitive about his reputation, and a deity attached to his chosen, particularly his patriarchs. This God is stirred by justice but sometimes in need of reminding to protect the innocent in his rush to punish the guilty. YHWH is depicted as resembling a well-intentioned and all- powerful monarch, who relies on his advisers for guidance when the concerns of his subjects are brought to his ears—but who always reserves the final judgment as his own.—Forestalling Doom page 213

Monday, September 19, 2016

Where does repentance fit?

Notably, in none of the cases analyzed does the intercessor claim that the people have turned aside from their wickedness, nor does the intercessor promise that they will. Despite its prevalence in Deuteronomy, Amos, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, this theme is absent in the intercessory speeches I analyze. Only in 1 Chr 21:17 do we see repentance by the perpetrator of an offense. But here David confesses not out of a desire to diminish his own punishment (as he did in v. 21:8), but to spare the innocent.—Forestalling Doom page 212

<idle musing>
Kinda blows the stereotypes out of the water, doesn't it? But it sure does make God more merciful and illustrates the depth of ḥesed!

Another thought: You don't turn/repent in order to avoid punishment. You turn/repent out of thankfulness that God has delivered you! Just an
</idle musing>

Friday, September 16, 2016

Just own up to it!

“Indeed experience demonstrates that we inflict heavier punishment upon persons who deny guilt and advance arguments in their own defense, but that anger desists from those who admit the justice of the punishment to be meted out to them. This, moreover, is reasonable, for denial of the obvious is insolence and effrontery, and there is no mockery or disdain like it.”&mdashJudah Messer Leon, The Book of the Honeycomb’s Flow: Sēpher Nōpheth Sūphīm (ed. I. Rabinowitz; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 331 as quoted in Forestalling Doom page 169 n. 82

<idle musing>
Indeed. But our natural tendency is to bristle and deny, isn't it?
</idle musing>

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What do we make of that?

Two speech act categories are absent from the corpus [of intercessory prayers in the HB]: commissives and declaratives, both hallmarks of transformative ritual speech. By omitting all declaratives, the biblical writers appear to be representing apotropaic intercession as something other than ritual—emphasizing, rather, the spontaneous, personal exchange between the intercessors and their God, fitting Moshe Greenberg’s definition of “prose prayer.”—Forestalling Doom page 202

<idle musing>
Interesting insight, once again illustrating that YHWH isn't a tame deity that we can put on a leash. Something we all need to remember when we try to bend God's will to our own.
</idle musing>