Posted by: religionthink | August 24, 2007

Dragon Slayers: Indra, Marduk, Yahweh, and Baal- A Literary Comparison Part 3

Dragon Slayers: Indra, Marduk, Yahweh, and Baal

A Literary Comparison Part 3 of 4

By, A.D. Wayman

Awake, awake, clothe yourself with splendor. O arm of the LORD! Awake as in days of old, As in former ages! It was you that hacked Rahab in pieces, That pierced the Dragon. It was you that dried up the Sea, The waters of the great deep; that made the abysses of the Sea A road the redeemed might walk.( Isaiah 51:9-10 NJPS)

The Primal Beginning

In contrast to the texts of Indra and Marduk, the texts of Yahweh in Genisis 1, creating order out of chaos is now somewhat tame. This account of the battle with the sea is unlike the violence in the other creation stories and it is due to good reason. Some scholars believe that the text of Genesis 1 was redacted during or just after the Babylonian exile. Here the priestly author wishes to remove all violence from the creation account in contrast to the Epic of Enuma Elish , that we discussed earlier. Here Eloheim issues creation through spoken word, effortlessly, as opposed to fighting a battle. 1

When God began to create heaven and earth the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water God said, Let there be light; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day. God said, Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water. God made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse. And it was so. God called the expanse Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. God said, Let the water below the sky be gathered into one area, that the dry land may appear. And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering of waters He called Seas. And God saw that this was good. (Gen 1:1-10 NJPS)

It is also important to note that this text also contrasts with the text of Indra that we viewed in an earlier essay from the Vedas. It was after much suffering and pain that the texts were cleared of violence. We see this transition happing through out religious literature. Not only in the ancient Near East but also from mythology in other parts of the globe.

The Birth of Yahweh

It is impossible to pin point the exact origin of how the idea of Yahweh came about . The end result is multi-cultural Mesopotamian influence. However the text below might give us a clue on one aspect of the formation of Yahweh from the neighbors of Israel. The Ugaric texts, when found recently, has shed new light on the writing styles and themes used in religious literature from that time period. Many times such literature , when cross referenced can show striking similarities to older Hebrew texts. Below we have a deity with a double name being created. El announces “The name of my son is Yw-El [ ].”. Here also we have the double name being used which was common in the Ancient Near east. The attributes of both deities were combined when tribes and states were assimilated into one another. It is appropriate to not the reference of rams , lambs and cattle being slain as a sacrifice requirement.

——-his son(s), Thor [ ]
And Ltpn, God of Mercy, replies: [ ]
“The name of my son is Yw-El [ ].”
And he proclaims the name of Sea [ ].
They reply: “- – – [ ]
Thou art named ‘Lord’ [ ]
I am Ltpn, God [of Mercy, ]
On the hands, thou art named [ ]
Thy name is El’s Darling, [Sea ]
My house of silver which [ ]
In the hands of Aliyan Ba[al ]
A pitcher of wine – – – [ ]
Drive him out from the se[at of his kingship]
[From the dais, the throne,] of his sovereignty
[ ]
And they, even to [ ]
He will smite thee like [ ]
El, sacrifice [ ]
to name [ ]
Slaughter great [and small cattle]
[Kill] oxen and [fallings of rams]
[Yearling bullocks]
[Little] lambs, [kids ]

Like their neighbors a clear pantheon existed in the literature although denied in the theology. Archeology, along with the literature as uncovered at least a four pantheon. Yahweh and Asherah being at the top level, then those deities who provide assistance or do assigned tasks. Yahweh as El addresses these deities in Psalm 89, and meets with them over the fate of Ahab in I Kings 22:19. On the next level we have the deities of specialties such as the “Nehushtan” or the serpent of healing that was created as an image as raised by Moses in Numbers 21:8-9. The next level would be angles who seem not to make choices but do the bidding of the deity and lastly we have the King and prophets. The king and prophets were seen as intermediaries of the deity and were not viewed as a deity or man god to the extent as for example in Egyptian literature. 3 Such a pantheon also survived among the Canaanites and Babylonians. The “Elohim” in Hebrew literature or “council of the gods” reference the good council of the gods in Babylonian literature where we find them termed as the “Igigi”.4 In the Vedas this pantheon is referred to as “Sadhyas”.5

The Conquest

“When locks are long in Israel, when the people offer themselves willingly— bless the Lord! “Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the Lord I will sing, I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel. “Lord, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens poured, the clouds indeed poured water. The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai, before the Lord, the God of Israel. “In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, caravans ceased and travelers kept to the byways. The peasantry prospered in Israel, they grew fat on plunder, because you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel. When new gods were chosen, then war was in the gates. Was shield or spear to be seen among forty thousand in Israel? My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the Lord. “Tell of it, you who ride on white donkeys, you who sit on rich carpets and you who walk by the way. To the sound of musicians at the watering places, there they repeat the triumphs of the Lord, the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel. “Then down to the gates marched the people of the Lord. (Jdg 5:2-11 NRSV)

The above text is possibly, one of the best examples of Yahweh the warrior. Here like the other deities we have discussed is using the elements, earthquakes, and in other places fire. Yahweh was viewed as such as the early tribal leagues were conquering the hill country of Palestine. Yahweh is seen as “The rider of the Clouds” and other such names that describe heroic deeds that were performed. Here is a text from Isaiah 51:9-10

Awake, awake, clothe yourself with splendor. O arm of the LORD! Awake as in days of old, As in former ages! It was you that hacked Rahab in pieces, That pierced the Dragon. It was you that dried up the Sea, The waters of the great deep; that made the abysses of the Sea A road the redeemed might walk.

It was quite easy to identify with such a deity, but as in the Vedas and in the Babylonian texts, the warrior god Yahweh would transform into a small still voice as his followers settled down in communities and took to agriculture. This change occurs in the literature in I kings 19. Through out the literature of this time period Yahweh is routinely infused with attributes of his rival Baal. This confrontation comes to a head when we read the text of I Kings 18.

Yahewh and the Serpent

As Indra and Marduk waged battles to bring order to the universe to Yahweh. Many texts throughout Jewish literature is filled with the Holy war motif. From Judges 4 – 5, the Psalms to the texts written by Habakkuk we find Yahweh the warrior , rider of the clouds slaying his enemies and ruling from his holy mountain. In order to keep a common theme we will address the text of Yahweh’s fight with the dragon Yam or the sea. The text below is one of the older holy war hymns attributed to the works of the warrior god Yahweh.

I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and might; He is become my deliverance. This is my God and I will enshrine Him; The God of my father, and I will exalt Him. The LORD, the Warrior — LORD is His name! Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; And the pick of his officers Are drowned in the Sea of Reeds. The deeps covered them; They went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the foe! In Your great triumph You break Your opponents; You send forth Your fury, it consumes them like straw. At the blast of Your nostrils the waters piled up, The floods stood straight like a wall; The deeps froze in the heart of the sea. The foe said, “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall have its fill of them. I will bare my sword — My hand shall subdue them.” You made Your wind blow, the sea covered them; They sank like lead in the majestic waters. Who is like You, O LORD, among the celestials; Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in splendor, working wonders! You put out Your right hand, The earth swallowed them. In Your love You lead the people You redeemed; In Your strength You guide them to Your holy abode. The peoples hear, they tremble; Agony grips the dwellers in Philistia. Now are the clans of Edom dismayed; The tribes of Moab — trembling grips them; All the dwellers in Canaan are aghast. (Ex 15 1b-15 NJP)

The text above loaded with imagery was not only about the crossing of the sea of reeds and the destruction of the pursuing Egyptian army. The imagery and metaphors above speak of the cosmic battle and is echoed in the Canaanite Baal Epic. 6

In the next and final essay in this series we will look at some literature from the Ugarit and discuss the similarities of the Canaanite pantheon and compare such texts as the Baal Epic to the literature that we have previously viewed. It is hoped that such similarities of the warrior gods Indra, Marduk, Yahweh, and Baal can be highlighted in this manner. Many times the public do not have access to these texts or one never takes the time to read such literature and settles for the traditional explanations. However, when one digs deeper in this type of literature, we realize that just when we thought we were alone were are in fact united with the world.

1. Armstrong, Karen. The Great Transformation. Anchor Books, New York, NY. 2007. pg.209.

2. Gordon, Cyrus , Ugarit and Minoan Crete: The bearing of their texts on the Origins of Western Culture. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1966. pg.61

3. Edelman, Diana. The Triumph of Elohim. Kok Pharos Publishing House Kampen, Netherlands 1996. pg. 27-45

4. Sandars, Nancy K. Poems of Heaven and Hell from Ancient Mesopotamia. New York: Penguin, 1971. “Enuma Elish”. Tablet 1.

5. Griffith, Ralph T.H. Rig Veda Book 10 Hym 90

6. Cross, Frank. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts 1997. pg. 117-125

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: