Thursday, June 11, 2020

The power behind the powers

What is particularly interesting about the notion of destiny or fate is that it was understood to affect deities as well as humans. Drawing on the distinctive approach of Yehezkel Kaufmann, Benjamin Sommer stresses how deities other than YHWH were conceived as being created or born from something that preceded them, and how they remain “subject to matter and to forces stronger than themselves.” He continues:
In Mesopotamian religion, there exists a realm of power independent of, and greater than, the realm of divinity. It is for this reason that in some Mesopotamian texts, humans attempt to ward off evil without turning in any significant way to the gods.. . . The role of the gods, when they are mentioned in texts of this kind, is merely to aid the humans in accessing those powers, which transcend even the gods’ realms but are better understood by the gods than by humans. [Benjamin Sommer, “Monotheism,” 259]
One of the most powerful of these forces is fate, which the gods themselves cannot merely overturn or negate. Indeed, the contrast between polytheism and monotheism may finally be less about the number of deities within a particular worldview and more about the relationship between deity and the divine forces of nature and fate. Monotheism thus entails what Peter Machinist has termed “a restructuring of the comic order.” [Peter Machinist, “How Gods Die,” 235]—Stephen B. Chapman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 185–86

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