Friday, March 22, 2019

Why humanity?

The roles assigned to humans bind them together in their common plight and bind them to the gods in servitude. Egyptian sources offer no explanation for the creation of humans. Sumerian and Akkadian sources consistently portray people as having been created to do the work of the gods—work that is es sential for the continuing existence of the gods, and work that the gods have tired of doing for themselves.
Enki and Ninmah: servants of the gods: “The corvée of the gods has been forced on it.”

KAR 4: “The corvée of the gods will be their corvée: They will fix the boundaries of the fields once and for all, and take in their hands hoes and baskets, to benefit the House of the great gods.”

Atrahasis: “Let him bear the yoke, the task of Enlil,let man assume the drudgery of god.”

Enuma Elish: To bear the gods’ burden that those may rest.“

In Israel people also believed that they had been created to serve God. The difference was that they saw humanity as having been given a priestly role in sacred space rather than as slave labor to meet the needs of deity. God planted the garden to provide food for people rather than people providing food for the gods.The explanation offered in KAR 4 shows that the priestly role of people was included in the profile, but still in terms of providing sustenance for the gods. The shared cognitive environment is evident in that all across the ancient world there was interest in exploring the divine component of humankind and the ontological relationship between the human and the divine. In Mesopotamia the cosmos functions for the gods and in relation to them. People are an afterthought, seen as just another part of the cosmos that helps the gods function. In Israel the cosmos functions for people and in relationship to them. God does not need the cosmos, but has determined to dwell in it, making it sacred space; it functions for people.—Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd ed., pages 186–87

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A different point of view

Every account of human origins seeks to address similar archetypal issues. They mirror what we already found in our discussion of cosmology—the accounts focus on functional issues rather than material ones. Order is established through identity. This may sound like an unusual statement to make since all of these accounts make specific references to the materials used for the creation of humans. But the materials mentioned serve to address archetypal issues (connectivity, relationships, roles) rather than to penetrate material ontology (let alone chemical composition). This is not to say that the ancients were speaking metaphorically rather than literally for this goes far beyond a literary or rhetorical device. The accounts address the topic by using archetypes, which express the most important realities in this cognitive environment. Materials are mentioned for their archetypal significance, not for their physical significance. Blood and flesh of the deity signify connection to deity. Clay or dust signifies connection to the land. The connections described by these archetypes offer information concerning the ancient corporate self-understanding.—Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd ed., page 180

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Just good managers

In the discussion of cosmology, it is important to observe that the control attributes are not initially set up, established, or invented by the gods. Rather, creation is the process of operating within the parameters of these control attributes, or even manipulating or assigning them. In Enuma Elish Marduk is said to “make his control attributes” (ubašimu parṣišu). This is the only occurrence of parsu as the object of one of the verbs of creation. The parallel in the previous phrase (“rites”) suggests, however, that it should be understood as referring to the control attributes of ritual procedures rather than of the cosmos. The control attributes are carried, gathered, exercised, held in the hand, granted, and organized by the gods, but not initiated by them.—Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd ed., page 163

Monday, March 18, 2019

Does it exist?

As I noted when discussing the origins of the gods, in the ancient world something came into existence when it was separated out as a distinct entity, given a function, and given a name. For purposes of discussion I will label this approach to ontology as “function oriented.” This is in stark contrast to modern ontology, which is much more interested in what might be called the structure or substance of objects along with their physical properties. In modern popular thinking (as opposed to technical philosophical discussion), the existence of the world is perceived in physical, material terms. For discussion I will designate this approach to ontology as “substance oriented." In the ancient Near East, something did not necessarily exist just because it happened to occupy space. Tobin captures this distinction between a material definition of the cosmos and a functional one based on order. “When the Egyptians contemplated the created universe through their myths and rituals, they would have been aware that the world around them was not simply a collection of material things. The universe was for them an awesome system of living divine beings. . . . Egyptian creation myth emphasized the fact that there was order and continuity in all things and thus gave the optimistic assurance that the natural, social, and political order would remain stable and secure.”(Tobin, OEAE 2:471).—Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd ed., pages 148–49

Friday, March 15, 2019

Job's sufferings

One final consideration in this category that highlights a difference between Israel and the rest of the ancient Near East concerns the issue of disinterested righteousness. If ethical behavior has an exterior foundation, a person behaves ethically because of the consequences—rewards or punishments—that are built into the system, whether by society or by the gods. This is the “Great Symbiosis” that we have identified. Disinterested righteousness is precisely the opposite of the Great Symbiosis. The adversary’s question in Job asked whether Job served God for nothing. Though ]ob’s friends encourage him to take the Mesopotamian path of appeasement (confess anything to restore favor with deity), Job maintains his integrity (see his conclusion in Job 27:2–6); demonstrating that he did possess an abstract interiorized standard of righteousness apart from a system of consequences.

None of the Mesopotamian literature that deals with the pious sufferer shows this dimension of thinking. These individuals can only claim that they have done everything they know to do in terms of ritual and ethical responsibility. They have no basis to proclaim their innocence, only their ignorance and confusion. They make no attempt to call deity into legal disputation—they only plead for mercy. The book of Job therefore stands as stark testimony to the differences in perception between Israel and the ancient Near East as it seeks to demonstrate that there is such a thing as disinterested righteousness.—Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd ed., pages 119, 126–27

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Stop blaming the pedestrian or bicyclist!

Just read this about a bike/truck collision. I think the author is right on the money. Here's an excerpt:
News stories about drivers who hit cyclists often implicitly absolve the driver and blame the victim. First, there’s almost always a lack of agency coupled with the passive voice: it’s never “a driver hit a cyclist.” Instead, it’s usually something like “a cyclist was hit by a car.” (Yet you never read about how a shooting victim “collided with a bullet.” Go figure.) Then there’s generally some insinuation that it must have been the victim’s fault, often along the lines of “It’s unclear whether the victim was wearing a helmet.”
and a bit later on:
the story quoted above is under 200 words long. There’s not a single mention of the motorist; instead, the victims were “struck by a pickup truck,” as though it were somehow self-driving. The account also contains no fewer than five mentions of the word “helmet,” yet it doesn’t remind people to drive more carefully or cite relevant motor vehicle code, not even once. The helmet exhortation is especially vexing since the little girl only sustained minor injuries. So, what, are we supposed to believe that if she’d been wearing a helmet the driver wouldn’t have hit her in the first place? Or are we supposed to think a child’s bicycle helmet offers meaningful protection against a Tacoma and that the real mitigating factor isn’t the luck that just happened to be on her side?

It’s almost like, in our bizarre logistical and ethical framework, dying while wearing a helmet is preferable to surviving without one. (emphasis added)


In the ancient Near East the divine rest is achieved in part by the gods’ creation of people to work in their place and on their behalf. A. Millard recognized that the biblical viewpoint represented a stark contrast to this picture in that in the Old Testament the people work for their own benefit and provision rather than to meet the needs of God or to do his work for him. They are commanded to participate in the rest of God on the Sabbath, not to imitate it per se, but to keep it in order to recognize his work of bringing and maintaining order. His control is represented in his rest and is recognized by yielding for the day their own attempts to provide for themselves.—Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd ed., page 124

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Gods? What gods?

The first commandment is not just promoting monolatry; it is getting at metaphysical structures another way. Although it does not say explicitly that no other gods exist, it does remove them from the presence of Yahweh. (The Hebrew preposition "before” used in this verse generally refers to location when it has a person as its object. Therefore we should understand it to say "there will not be for you other gods in my presence.”) lf Yahweh does not share power, authority, or jurisdiction with them, they are not gods in any meaningful sense of the word. The first commandment does not insist that the other gods are nonexistent but that they are powerless; it disenfranchises them. It does not simply say that they should not be worshiped; it leaves them with no status worthy of worship.—Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd ed., page 120