Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 17: Rise Up, O Yahweh, Confront Them.

Psalm 17: Rise up, O Yahweh, Confront Them.

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit. From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right. If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress. As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent. My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped. I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words. Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand. Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me. They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly. They track me down; now they surround me; they set their eyes to cast me to the ground. They are like a lion eager to tear, like a young lion lurking in ambush. Rise up, O Lord, confront them, overthrow them! By your sword deliver my life from the wicked, from mortalsby your hand, O Lord from mortals whose portion in life is in this world. May their bellies be filled with what you have stored up for them; may their children have more than enough; may they leave something over to their little ones. As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness. (Psalms 17:1-15 NRSV)

Here, some scholars believe that the writer above was accused of idol worship, slander, wrongly accused by the king, or under political pressure from a rebel army. The lamenter here would be possibly praying all night in the temple. The person above asks Yahweh himself to investigate the accusations. The writer is sure of his innocence and looks to be vindicated, if not in this life time, in the afterlife. Vindication for the above is important, for if found guilty of idol worship the accused would be banned from the temple. This would be most devastating spiritually, socially, and politically.

This lament is often called a Psalm of Vigil. The structure of the Psalm can be outlined as follows; verses 1-5 prays for Gods help, 6-12 asks for deliverance from enemies, and 13-15 a petition for the destruction of enemies. Another Psalm in comparison could be Psalm 18 which has almost the same theme. Below we will see the similarities between two pieces of literature from the Near East dealing with the wrongly accused and vindication, and also the idea of destroying enemies and rebels.

The first text, and possibly one of the best comparisons, is the Egyptian prayer for help in court. In the text properly called A Prayer for Help in the Court of Law This particular text comes from the Papyrus of Anastais II from about 1230 B.C. We read the following:

O Amon, give thy ear to one who is alone in the law court, who is poor; he is not rich. The court cheats him of silver and gold for the scribes of the mat and clothing for the attendants. May it be found that Amon assumes his form as the vizier, in order to permit the poor man to get off. May it be found that the poor man is vindicated. May the poor man surpass the rich. (Pritchard p.308)
In comparison to destroying rebels or those who disrespect, We find in the Ancient Near East the Myth of Inanna and Ebih, a request for the permission to destroy rebels. We read,

65-69 (Inana announced:) “An, my father, I greet you! Lend your ear to my words. You have made me terrifying among the deities in heaven. Owing to you my word has no rival in heaven or on earth. You have given me the …… and the cilig weapon, the antibal and mansium emblems.

70-79 “To set the socle in position and make the throne and foundation firm, to carry the might of the cita weapon which bends like a mubum tree, to hold the ground with the sixfold yoke, to extend the thighs with the fourfold yoke, to pursue murderous raids and widespread miltary campaigns, to appear to those kings in the …… of heaven like moonlight, to shoot the arrow from the arm and fall on fields, orchards and forests like the tooth of the locust, to take the harrow to rebel lands, to remove the locks from their city gates so the doors stand open — King An, you have indeed given me all this, and …….

80-82 “You have placed me at the right hand of the king in order to destroy rebel lands: may he, with my aid, smash heads like a falcon in the foothills of the mountain, King An, and may I …… your name throughout the land like a thread.

83-88 “May he destroy the lands as a snake in a crevice. May he make them slither around like a sajkal snake coming down from a mountain. May he establish control over the mountain, examine it and know its length. May he go out on the holy campaign of An and know its depth. The gods ……, since the Anuna deities have …….

89-95 “How can it be that the mountain did not fear me in heaven and on earth, that the mountain did not fear me, Inana, in heaven and on earth, that the mountain range of Ebih, the mountain, did not fear me in heaven and on earth? Because it showed me no respect, because it did not put its nose to the ground, because it did not rub its lips in the dust, may I fill my hand with the soaring mountain range and hand it over to my terror.

96-99 “Against its magnificent sides let me place magnificent battering rams, against its small sides let me place small battering rams. Let me storm it and start the ‘game’ of holy Inana. In the mountain range let me set up battle and prepare conflicts.

100-103 “Let me prepare arrows in the quiver. Let me …… slingstones with the rope. Let me begin the polishing of my lance. Let me prepare the throwstick and the shield.

104-107 “Let me set fire to its thick forests. Let me take an axe to its evil-doing. Let me make Gibil, the purifier, bare his holy teeth at its watercourses. Let me spread this terror through the inaccessible mountain range Aratta.

108-111 “Like a city which An has cursed, may it never be restored. Like a city at which Enlil has frowned, may it never again lift its neck up. May the mountain tremble when I approach. May Ebih give me honour and praise me.” ( Black)
Psalms 17 in some ways displays the anguish of being wrongly accuse and also gives us a view of the ancient of reaction to the issue. It seems to be consistent that those cheated or wrongly accused, even in modern times, would want to be vindicated and have their enemies destroyed. An appeal to the gods was in order. It is interesting to think about this subject in light of the New Testament teachings. Today we would turn the other cheek and at times appear meek. It seems in the texts above that it was handled differently.

Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Robson, E., and Zolyomi, G., Inanna and Ebih The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford 1998

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

Quoted biblical texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 16: Protect Me, O EL

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight. Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalms 16:1-11 NRSV)

In the above text lies hidden something special that only one knowing Hebrew and the Canaanite religion might be able to uncover. The above text is thought to be a profession of a believer who has just converted from the Canaanite religion to Yahwehism. Verse 1 of the Psalm is the introduction, Verses 3-4 are the rejection of the past religion and gods. Verses 5-11 talk of the benefits of following Yahweh. Finally, verses 10-11 are statements alluding to belief in the afterlife.

The writer in the above text renounces the old gods and wishes on the believers of his previous faith many sorrows. The word here for sorrows makes us remember back to the conversation Yahweh had with Eve concerning the curse. Below we will discuss this text and compare it to the Canaanite confession of faith spoken by the goddesses Asherah and Anat concerning Baal while they were lobbying the supreme god of the Canaanite pantheon, El, for a temple to be built in which Baal could be finally be validated as a god. Along with the text from the Canaanite religion, comes a Sumerian text where the writer is saved from death by execution, at the last second, and praises the goddess Nungal, in a writing called “A Hymn to Nungal”.

The above text outside of the praises for Yahweh has illusions to that of a warrior being kept from death or “Sheol” because Yahweh is his protector. In the Ancient Near East the most trusted defender was put at the kings right. Also, the sword was carried in the right hand and the shield in the left. Possibly the writer is not only talking about the afterlife but perhaps he finds council in Yahweh and Yahweh is seen as his protector. It is humors to speculate this conversion was made out of fear before a battle. It would be smart to have the strongest god protecting you, while for good luck you denounce the old gods and use them only in extreme measures or when convenient.

The Canaanite profession of faith reads:

But our king is Baal the Conqueror,
our judge, higher than all:
all of us must bear his chalice,
all of us must bear his cup.”

Here is also a reference to the cup, with the same motif as in the Psalm above. This saying comes from the mouth of Anat before El, when she asks permission for Baal to build a temple. The phrase is quite small but it is enough to make the comparison.

Moving on we come to the hymn to Nungal in this particular part we see how the accused are snatched from the jaws of death and praise is given to the goddess, the protector of the perhaps wrongly accused.

“When someone has been brought into the palace of the king and this man is accused of a capital offence, my chief prosecutor, Nindimgul, stretches out his arm in accusation (?). He sentences that person to death, but he will not be killed; he snatches the man from the jaws of destruction and brings him into my house of life and keeps him under guard. No one wears clean clothes in my dusty (?) house. My house falls upon the person like a drunken man. He will be listening for snakes and scorpions in the darkness of the house. My house gives birth to a just person, but exterminates a false one. Since there are pity and tears within its brick walls, and it is built with compassion, it soothes the heart of that person, and refreshes his spirits.”

The writer then ends with the conclusion:

Because the lady has revealed her greatness; because she has provided the prison, the jail, her beloved dwelling, with awesome radiance, praise to be Nungal, the powerful goddess, the neck-stock of the Anuna gods, whose …… no one knows, foremost one whose divine powers are untouchable!

So here in this one Psalm were able to see a conversion from the Canaanite religion to Yahwehism. At time they headings concerning King David that were applied to the introduction to some of the Psalms can serve as distraction. This text is possibly the only text in the Psalms where the writer has changed gods and has denounced the old ways. It is also interesting how the same themes flowed through the ancient Near East. The concept of the protector, the cup, the afterlife, and the praises written to their particular gods were very much a part of the culture and writing style within the region. One would be mistaken that the biblical texts were written within a vacuum of a pure culture.

A hymn to Nungal, The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL), Oriental Institute, University of Oxford.

Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. Illinois 2000.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 15: Who May Abide In Your Tent?

O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved. (Psalms 15:1-5 NRSV)

In the ancient Near East there were qualifications one had to complete before entering a temple of a god. We are familiar with the Old Testament texts and the long passages of legal information on the clean and unclean in order to be unblemished before Yahweh and to gain his favor. The text above also brings to mind the anger Jesus felt when he threw the money changers from the temple:

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:12-13 NRSV)

Although we may be going out on a limb, it is somewhat humors to think they may have broken the rule of this simple Psalm and Jesus thought it proper to eject them, because they didn’t meet the simple qualifications of one of the simplest psalms of the Jewish texts.

The text is an entrance liturgy verse 1 is the question of the worshipers and 2-5a is the answer followed by the assurance of Yahweh in verse 5b. The text above also has the theme of the tongue running through it. As a piece of wisdom literature it may have been used to teach the young. In Psalms 39:1 and 73:9, we find two examples of advice on how a young person might keep on the path of righteousness; control your tongue and don’t boast. Below we read:

I said, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will keep a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.” (Psalms 39:1 NRSV)

They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues range over the earth. (Psalms 73:9 NRSV)

Some of the qualifications above were not only required for temple rights but were also required to enter the very gates of heaven. We come to the Egyptian account of the judgment, where the words of the deceased are weighed against the feather of truth. It is here that the two justices, Anubis and Thoth, find truthfulness or lies in the following words. If truthful, sin will not add weight to the heart and will be lighter then the feather resulting in the god Horus introducing the deceased to the presence of Osiris and everlasting paradise. However, if the heart is found unjustified then it will be eaten by “the Devourer of the Unjustified” , a hippo- crocodile-cheetah creature, who waits with hunger next to the scale. It is most interesting to note that the believer needs to say “I have not” in this judgment hall rather then the traditional modern day concept of “I have done”, below we read the text known as The Forty Confessions of Matt:

I have not committed sins against men.
I have not opposed my family and kinsfolk.
I have not acted fraudulently in the Seat of Truth.
I have not known men who were of no account.
I have not wrought evil.
I have not made it to be the first [consideration daily that unnecessary] work should be done for me.
I have not brought forward my name for dignities.
I have not [attempted] to direct servants
[I have not belittled God].
I have not defrauded the humble man of his property.
I have not done what the gods abominate.
I have not vilified a slave to his master.
I have not inflicted pain.
I have not caused anyone to go hungry.
I have not made any man to weep.
I have not committed murder.
I have not given the order for murder to be committed.
I have not caused calamities to befall men and women.
I have not plundered the offerings in the temples.
I have not defrauded the gods of their cake-offerings.
I have not carried off the fenkhu cakes [offered to] the Spirits.
I have not committed fornication.
I have not masturbated [in the sanctuaries of the god of my city].
I have not diminished from the bushel.
I have not filched [land from my neighbor’s estate and] added it to my own acre.
I have not encroached upon the fields [of others].
I have not added to the weights of the scales.
I have not depressed the pointer of the balance.
I have not carried away the milk from the mouths of children.
I have not driven the cattle away from their pastures.
I have not snared the geese in the goose-pens of the gods.
I have not caught fish with bait made of the bodies of the same kind of fish.
I have not stopped water when it should flow.
I have not made a cutting in a canal of running water.
I have not extinguished a fire when it should burn.
I have not violated the times [of offering] the chosen meat offerings.
I have not driven away the cattle on the estates of the gods.
I have not turned back the god at his appearances.
I am pure. I am pure. I am pure.

As seen above, in this case, the believer would want to be sure that what he was saying was the truth or risk loosing his eternal reward. In these forty confessions, all the themes in Psalm 15 are covered. Being truthful, not slandering, not being reproachful to your neighbor, using money and interest honestly, and not taking bribes against the innocent are all present. Summing up both texts given, if one is truthful, deals honestly, and hold his tongue, then the rewards are bestowed both in this life and in the world beyond.

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990.

Budge, E.A. Wallis. The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York 1967.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Quoted biblical texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 14: There They Shall Be In Great Terror

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one. Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous. You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge. O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad. (Psalms 14:1-7 NRSV)

The above Psalm could be possibly classified in two categories, both Lament and Wisdom literature. There are also striking similarities to Psalms 53. Some would like to say that possibly one borrowed from the other but it may be that possibly there are two view points, one (Psalms 53) from Northern Israel, and the other, (above) from the South. The Psalm above is to the person who fails to recognize the sovereignty of Yahweh. The author tells of the moral break down and Yahweh brings the people back. Some scholars believe that this text may refer to the exile and could be a later addition.

Below we will discuss a text in the ancient Near East where the author advises the remembrance of the god. It comes from the Akkadian, The Creation Epic. This particular text comes from Babylon around 1901 B.C. The dates are disputed but the author of this essay would like to give some reference of a possible time period. In this account the god Marduk defeats Tiamat, the large serpent, and throws her to the underworld. In the epilogue of this beautiful creation story we may read this as if it were a piece of wisdom literature:

Let them be kept in mind and let the leader explain them.
Let the wise and the knowing discuss them together.
Let the father recite them and impart to his son.
Let the ears of shepherd and herdsmen be opened.
Let him rejoice in Marduk, the Enlil of the gods,
That his land may be fertile and that he may prosper.
Firm in his order, his command unalterable,
The utterance of his mouth no god shall change.
When he looks he does not turn away his neck;
When he is angry no god can withstand his wrath.
Vast is his mind, broad is his sympathy;
Sinner and transgressor will be confounded before him.
The teaching which the leader has voiced in his presence…( Pritchard p.72)

Just as the Psalm above, this text from Babylon tell that the knowledge of the god should be passed on and his sovereignty and works should not be forgotten. And the themes of the two texts run almost side by side. In the end the works of the evil doers and transgressors and unwise will be foiled and confounded. The god will come as a refuge; and through compassion and wisdom will restore fortune and the land will be glad.

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Dally, Stephanie. Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford University Press Inc., Oxford, New York 1989.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

Quoted biblical texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Thoughts on Susanna: A Modern Perspective Of A Biblical Sex Crime

Thoughts on Susanna- A Modern Perspective of a Biblical Sex Crime

By A. D. Wayman

The text of Susanna in the Apocrypha has some interesting events occur that warrants more attention then most scholars give it. It is not the only one of many stories that portrays the intelligence and righteousness of the hero and prophet Daniel out smarting those in power. It also portrays how sexual crimes may have been carried out at that time. One topic of interest is the sexual characteristics of the two judges who try to conspire to trap Susanna into committing fornication with them by threatening her with the death penalty, and the criminal acts they use to carry out the crime. If it were not for the quick thinking of Daniel, who acts on Susanna’s behalf as her defense attorney, things may have turned out differently. Below is an attempt to understand these judges. An attempt is made at giving a modern day view on the sexual mind set of the judges in the text.

In that year two elders from the people were appointed as judges. Concerning them the Lord had said: “Iniquity came forth from Babylon, from elders who were judges, who were supposed to govern the people.” These men were frequently at Joakim’s house, and all who had suits at law came to them. When the people departed at noon, Susanna would go into her husband’s garden to walk. The two elders used to see her every day, going in and walking about, and they began to desire her. And they perverted their minds and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering righteous judgments. Both were overwhelmed with passion for her, but they did not tell each other of their distress, for they were ashamed to disclose their lustful desire to possess her. And they watched eagerly, day after day, to see her. Dan 13:5-13 RSVA

It is interesting on how much the judges dwelt on the beauty of Susanna and how much they watched her. The formation of these fantasies was not possibly the first step in the process of becoming criminals. It is speculated by the author of this essay that the men have committed these sorts of crimes in the past. They were at the point of acting out a crime and they had the paraphilias of stalking, voyeurism and possibly fetishism. If they had cameras they may have snapped images of her and developed them in order to use fantasy to act out their psychosexual desire through masturbation. If telephones existed in that day possibly obscene phone calls and threats would have been made to Susanna. We learn from the text that the role of fantasy was strong, so strong that “both were overwhelmed with passion for her.”

The plot thickens when they decide in their minds that they would like to act out their fantasy. They both come to the same conclusion on how best to do this.

They said to each other, “Let us go home, for it is mealtime.” And when they went out, they parted from each other. But turning back, they met again; and when each pressed the other for the reason, they confessed their lust. And then together they arranged for a time when they could find her alone. Dan 13:13-14 RSVA

Perhaps they were surprised on finding themselves back at the same spot at the same time with the same motives and intentions. Possibly the text here hints at that fact, and serves more then just a good story telling theme. In today’s society those with sexual deviant behavior can have direct communication with each other over the internet. They use this as a means to justify, educate, and trade erotica, victim information and techniques to each other. If one were to obtain a search warrant for the houses of these judges possibly we would find what law enforcement call “collateral materials” or materials that do not connect the offended to the crime but give investigators a view into the offenders sexual preferences and my be used at direct or circumstantial evidence. Some of this collateral evidence would include erotica, educational, and introspective material. This means if we were able to see sketches, notes on how to best commit the crime or read the diaries of these judges, I’m sure it would prove most interesting. So, as the text tells above, the two judges met and admitted their sexual fantasies to each other and compared notes on how to best carry out the crime.

Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was very hot. And no one was there except the two elders, who had hid themselves and were watching her. She said to her maids, “Bring me oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I may bathe. “They did as she said, shut the garden doors, and went out by the side doors to bring what they had been commanded; and they did not see the elders, because they were hidden. When the maids had gone out, the two elders rose and ran to her, and said: “Look, the garden doors are shut, no one sees us, and we are in love with you; so give your consent, and lie with us. If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you, and this was why you sent your maids away.” Susanna sighed deeply, and said, “I am hemmed in on every side. For if I do this thing, it is death for me; and if I do not, I shall not escape your hands. I choose not to do it and to fall into your hands, rather than to sin in the sight of the Lord.” Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and the two elders shouted against her. Dan 13:15-24 RSVA

Above we have a very organized and well planned crime being played out according to script. This tells us that the judges may have done this type of crime successfully in the past their crime went unpunished. Also the amount of time they put into stalking Susanna shows just how far they were willing to go to act out their fantasy. As stated above they were in the garden peeping, stalking, and waiting for the perfect moment and opportunity to easily commit their crime. From the text we can gleam that they knew how to enter the garden undetected. Also, they knew how many maids accompanied Susanna for as the text tells us “she went in as before with only two maids”.

In Daniel 13:36-40 we have the account of the crime in an altered version given by the offenders. When the Judges were alone with Susanna they ran to her and told her their intentions and threatened her. After weighing the cost Susanna yelled and so did the men. As planned they accused her of sexual infidelity and had her tried in court in front of the elders. They came up with the most interesting story of a young man who was hidden in the garden and then came out after Susanna’s maids left and laid with her and the judges who were just scrolling about in the garden, religiously ran to them, catching them in an embrace, tried to confine the man but being strong he was able to escape. And as the text says in Daniel 13:41 “The assembly believed them, because they were elders of the people and judges; and they condemned her to death.”

Next we have Susanna’s mournful cry to the Lord for her deliverance;
“O eternal God, who dost discern what is secret, who art aware of all things before they come to be, thou knowest that these men have borne false witness against me. And now I am to die! Yet I have done none of the things that they have wickedly invented against me!” Dan 13:42-43 RSVA

In the following verses 49-62 the Lord in all his wisdom calls the lad Daniel, whom God divinely appointed as Susanna’s defense attorney. And with some smart and cunning investigative techniques proves Susanna’s innocents by proving the Judges were lying and falsely accusing her. Daniel quickly reconvenes the court and chastises the court for not interrogating and looking at the evidence properly. He then splits the Judges and lo and behold they can not even tell under what tree Susanna and her lover were having intercourse. It apparently was known that the Judges had past offences , for in Daniel 13:57 we read;

“This is how you both have been dealing with the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not endure your wickedness.”
So Daniel was able to bring about a conviction on the grounds of false witness and the Judges were sentenced to death.

If considered as a sex crime instead of a hero story of Daniel we are brought to the sobering fact that these issues were just as prevalent in the days of the biblical texts as they are today. However, today there are better ways of communication between criminals and those with similar interests which in the long run makes it seem more challenging to keep under control by law enforcement. However, just as it was in the days of the biblical writers, such accounts are still written in history today.

Hazelwood, R. & K. Lanning. (1995). “Collateral Materials in Sexual Crimes,” in R. Hazelwood & A. Burgess (Eds.) Practical Aspects of Rape Investigation. Boca Raton: CRC Press. pp. 183-189.

Hazelwood, R. & J. Warren. (1995). “The Relevance of Fantasy in Serial Sexual Crime Investigations,” in Practical Aspects of Rape Investigation. Boca Raton: CRC Press. pp. 127-137.

All biblical texts were quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Apocrypha.

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Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 13: The Battle Against Mot.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalms 13:1-6 NRSV)

The text above is a lament by one who is near death. There is a parallel text from the Near East where the writer asks his god; How Long? In “The Lament for Sumer and Urin.” we find Suen, thinking he has been forgotten by his god Enlil. Below we read:

In his grief Suen approached his father. He went down on his knee in front of Enlil, the father who begot him: “O father who begot me, how long will the enemy eye be cast upon my account, how long ……? The lordship and the kingship that you bestowed ……, father Enlil, the one who advises with just words, the wise words of the Land ……, your inimical judgment ……, look into your darkened heart, terrifying like waves. O father Enlil, the fate that you have decreed cannot be explained, the …… of lordship, my ornament.” …… he put on a garment of mourning.

However, there seems to be another important theme in Psalms 13, and that is the writers fight with death. In the text the writer seems to be on the brink of death and feels that Yahweh has forgotten him. It is not until the end that confidence is regained and trust is renewed through steadfast love. The Canaanite god Mot may have some relevance here. With the words: “Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.” we are taken back to the battle between Baal and Mot. Here, there are three players in the Psalm; the writer, Yahweh, and Mot or death. Below we will discuss the god Mot and see him boast that he has prevailed and rejoice because Baal is shaken.

The god Mot, in the Canaanite mythology, was a fierce god that ate everything. He was as ugly as he was fierce. Mot was upset with Baal because Ball refused to pay tribute to him after Baal built his heavenly temple and was enthroned. The Baal boasts:

“No other king or non-king
shall set his power over the earth.
I will send no tribute to Ers son Death,
no homage to El’s Darling, the Hero.
Let Death cry to himself,
let the Darling grumble in his heart;
for I alone will rule over the gods;
I alone will fatten gods and men;
I alone will satisfy earth’s masses.”

Mot embodies all the characteristics that people perceive death to be if they were to put a face on him. In part of the writing of Baal’s battle with Mot we have a description.

‘My appetite is like that of a lioness,
or the desire of a dolphin in the sea;
my pool seizes the wild oxen,
my well grabs the deer;
when I have the appetite for an ass,
then I eat with both my hands, , . ,”
“One lip to the earth, one lip to the heavens;
he will stretch his tongue to the stars,

So here we have death, always hungry, mouth wide open, from the earth to the heavens and his tongue to the stars, ready to consume all that is in his path. Also, in the text below, we see that muck and phlegm is added to the list. Baal is terrified and shaken, he submits to Mot. He tells death’s messengers to leave and give Mot the news of his submission.

“Baal the Conqueror became afraid;
the Rider on the Clouds was terrified:
“Leave me; speak to Ers son Death,
repeat to Ers Darling, the Hero:
‘Message of Baal the Conqueror,
the word of the Conqueror of Warriors:
Hail, Ers son Death!
I am your servant, I am yours forever.’ “
They left; they did not turn back;
then they headed toward Ers son Death,
to the midst of his city, the Swamp,
Muck, his royal house,
Phlegm, the land of his inheritance,…”

Baal descends into the underworld with all his children. The rain stops, famine takes hold on the earth, and the gods lament. Anat, Baal’s wife pleads for his release. We read Mot boasting of his victory while speaking to the goddess.

“She seized Death by the edge of his clothes,
she grabbed him by the hem of his garments;
she raised her voice and shouted:
“Come, Death, give me my brother!”
And El’s son Death replied:
“What do you want, Virgin Anat?
I was taking a walk and wandering
on every mountain in the heart of the earth,
on every hill in the heart of the fields;
I felt a desire for human beings,
a desire for earth’s masses.
I arrived at my pleasant place, the desert pasture,
the lovely fields on Death’s shore.
I approached Baal the Conqueror;
I put him in my mouth like a lamb,
he was crushed like a kid in my jaws.”
Sun, the gods’ torch, burned;
the heavens shimmered under the sway of Ers son

Baal later conquers death, returns with the rain, and ends the drought, and we can see the relevance of the battle as compared to Psalms 13. Baal was shaken with fear, death boasted that he prevailed, and El, god of the pantheon, did little to stop Mot from consuming Baal. This lament could be spoken by anyone dealing with deaths open mouth, and wagging tongue. Psalms 13 could have been Baal’s lament from death’s grip, and it would have fit the context. This battle from Canaanite mythology has the underlying thought that we all must pay tribute to death at some point. Even Baal could not escape it.

Black, J. A., Cunningham, G., Robson, E. and Zólyomu, G. “ Lament for Sumer and Urin.” The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature , Oxford University, 1998.

Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. Illinois 2000.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 12: The Destruction Of Humankind.

Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind. They utter lies to each other; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail; our lips are our own—who is our master?” “Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,” says the Lord; “I will place them in the safety for which they long.” The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. You, O Lord, will protect us; you will guard us from this generation forever. On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among humankind. (Psalms 12:1-8 NRSV)

The above text is a community text lamenting the wickedness of mankind. The text has the same theme as the account of the flood, Sodom and Gomorra, and Nineveh. The writer laments how no one on earth is godly and how lies are spoken to one another. Later the instrument of the sins, in this case the boasting tongues, are cut off. The needy groan and Yahweh rises up. The writer then remembers the promises, protection, and refinement of Yahweh. There are many topics here; the idea of being refined seven times in a furnace for purification, Yahweh’s protection of the poor, and the lack of order that seems to be prevailing. While it may be proper to talk of the idea of the use of silver smelting, or a god having pity on the poor, or an Egyptian prophet complaining to the pharaoh about the political hardships in the land; we will instead turn to the motif of the gods destroying mankind because of their displeasure with humanity they created. We will explore two stories outside the biblical texts where this motif comes into play. We will explore the accounts of Atrahasis, and also almost the same story in the account of the flood, relayed in the Gilgamesh epic, and an Egyptian account.

In this particular motif there are a few important themes. First there are people who survive the destruction. Those few who survive appear to be the only just people in the world, or the only person who is in good favor with the god is spared. For example in the text of Atrahasis we read:

“Now there was one AtrahasisWhose ear was open to his god Enki.He would speak with his godAnd his god would speak with him.” (Dalley p.18)

The text above reads like the biblical Noah and Yahweh.

“But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord. These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.” (Genesis 6:8-12 NRSV)

Next, the gods take council on how to handle the issue. As we will see, in a rather humorous way, the methods of destruction are not always the most effective. Finally we will see the gods relenting about the decision that was made. One may ask how such analogies can be related to Psalms 12. The following relates, because from reading the text, it is thought that the only one righteous, according to the writer, is the writer himself.

As relayed above, Atrahasis was told by his god Enki that the earth was to be flooded. The council of the gods had decided that no one from humankind would be left. Enki told Atahasis about the plot and he built a boat to with stand the great flood. The text comes from the clay tablets of the Old Babylonian era, which is dated to around 1700 BC. Here the story deals with the god complaining of the people being noisy; and a way to deal with noise and over population is needed. After disease and drought prove ineffectual, it is decided that something else is needed to be done. After a fight between the gods Enki and Ellil, a flood is planned by Ellil with out approval from the other gods. However Enki warns Atrahasis and tells him to tare down his house and build a boat. Atrahasis in distress does as he is told:

“He invited his people.. to a feast.
…put his family on board.
They were eating, they were drinking.
But he went in and out, could not stay still or rest on his haunches,
His heart was breaking and he was vomiting bile.
The face of the weather changed.
Adad bellowed from the clouds.
When..he( Atrahasis) heard his noise,
Bitumen was brought and he sealed his door.
Adad kept bellowing from the clouds.
The wind was raging even as he went up
(And ) cut through the rope, he released the boat.

So in the story involving Atrahasis, the displeasure with humankind was over noise and overpopulation. Although there are differences in the accounts between the story of Atrahasis and the biblical texts, there are implications in the biblical flood account that deal with the same issues. Yahweh limits the years of humans, and after the humans mate with the gods and become wicked he decides on the flood. Below we read:

“When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:1-5 NRSV)

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, unlike Atrahasis, the story here has more detail. Names for the gods are different. The acts once attributed to Atrahasis, later, are attributed to the one called Utanapishtim, but they play the same roles. Here we see the god La lamenting mans destruction:

‘Who else but Ea could devise such a thing?
It is Ea who knows every machination!’
La spoke to Valiant Enlil, saying:
‘It is yours, O Valiant One, who is the Sage of the Gods.
How, how could you bring about a Flood without consideration
Charge the violation to the violator,
charge the offense to the offender,
but be compassionate lest (mankind) be cut off,
be patient lest they be killed.
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that a lion had appeared to diminish the people!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that a wolf had appeared to diminish the people!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that famine had occurred to slay the land!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that (Pestilent) Erra had appeared to ravage the land!
It was not I who revealed the secret of the Great Gods,
I (only) made a dream appear to Atrahasis, and (thus) he
heard the secret of the gods.
Now then! The deliberation should be about him!’
Enlil went up inside the boat
and, grasping my hand, made me go up.
He had my wife go up and kneel by my side.
He touched our forehead and, standing between us, he blessed us:
‘Previously Utanapishtim was a human being.
But now let Utanapishtim and his wife become like us, the gods!”
(Carnahan, Tablet 11)

In the Egyptian account of the destruction of mankind it reads almost like the story of the Tower of Babel, where the god feels that he is being conspired against. In this particular account, Ra first consults the gods before he makes a decision on what he will do. We read :

“Then Re said to Nun: “O eldest god, in whom I came into being, O ancestor gods, behold mankind, which came into being from my Eye-they have plotted things against me. Tell me what ye would do about it. Behold, I am seeking; I would not slay them until I had heard what ye might say about it.” (Pritchard p. 11)

In summery we can see that there are a few themes that evolve through the comparisons. When reading these texts in full one will find that the themes discussed are there. The same motifs are found in the biblical account of Sodom and Gomorra. Yahweh consults Abraham on the issue and Abraham tries to intercede for the citizens of the doomed city. Although Yahweh never repented for the destruction the other themes are prevalent. Psalms 12, in light of these themes, is seemingly a precursor to the destruction that will come from Yahweh if the acts of the wicked are not reversed. And the author of the Psalm knows that if he is righteous, even if being the only one, Yahweh will protect him from the coming destruction.

Carnahan, Wolf. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Electronic Edition, I998.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Dally, Stephanie. Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford University Press Inc., Oxford, New York 1989.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. Illinois 2000.

Quoted biblical texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 11: Coals Of Fire And Sulfur.

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me, “Flee like a bird to the mountains; for look, the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven. His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence. On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face. (Psalms 11:1-7 NRSV)

Psalms eleven could be labeled a psalm of trust. In verses 1-3 there are descriptions of hardship and accounts of the wicked prevailing. The writer uses the divine warrior theme and relates how Yahweh will destroy the wicked using coals of fire and sulfur. The theme of divine kingship of the temple and heavenly throne is also used. Within this particular essay we will discuss two important elements. The first theme is the use of fire and other elements raining on the enemies. One such text that bears this relevance is the Akkadian text which scholars date to 2320 B.C. called the Hymnal Prayer of Enheduanna. Also, Ezekiel 38:17-23 may have some relevance here. Also, one could argue the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 may be also worth noting. Another theme is the turning of the deities face. In Mesopotamia it was thought that if a god looked towards the believer then the god was pleased. If however; the deity turned away, then it would represent displeasure. This theme is found throughout the biblical texts. One example of this is found in Psalms 27:9 “Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!” Outside the Biblical texts we find one, of many examples, in the Prayer of Lamentation to Ishtar.

In the Hymnal Prayer of Enheduanna, from Volume II of the book; The Ancient Near East, we find the writer giving adoration to the goddess Inanna. We see written here, in the text to Inanna, the goddess using the elements to take revenge on her enemies. Thunder, fire, drought, floods and winds, according to the writer of this hymn, are at her disposal.

You have filled the land with venom, like a dragon.
Vegetation ceases, when You thunder like Ishkur,
You who bring down the Flood from the mountain,
Supreme One, who are the Inanna of Heaven (and) Earth,
Who rain flaming fire over the land,
Who have been given the me by An,
Queen Who Rides the Beasts,
Who at the holy command of An, utters the (divine) words,
Who can fathom Your great rites!
Destroyer of the Foreign Lands,
You have given wings to the storm,
Beloved of Enlil – You made it (the storm) blow over the land,
You carried out the instructions of An.
My Queen,
the foreign lands cower at Your cry,
In dread (and) fear of the South Wind, mankind
Brought You their anguished clamor,
Took before You their anguished outcry
Opened before You wailing and weeping,
Brought before You the “great” lamentations in the city streets.

In comparison to other places in the biblical texts, we also see the oracle of Yahweh prophesying the harsh vengeance that will be dealt out on the land. Like the above we read almost the same themes used to detail the impending destruction.

“Thus says the Lord God: Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them? On that day, when Gog comes against the land of Israel, says the Lord God, my wrath shall be aroused. For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare: On that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and the animals of the field, and all creeping things that creep on the ground, and all human beings that are on the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground. I will summon the sword against Gog in all my mountains, says the Lord God; the swords of all will be against their comrades. With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him; and I will pour down torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur, upon him and his troops and the many peoples that are with him. So I will display my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 38:17-23 NRSV).

Lastly, we turn to the last topic; of the turning of the deities face. In the Prayer of Lamentation to Ishtar, we come upon a writer in great distress. The prayer is also used in comparison to the Job complex. In the passage the writer begs for repentance and relief from suffering. It is towards the end of the lamentation we read the following:

Accept the abasement of my countenance; hear my prayers.
Faithfully look upon me and accept my supplication.
How long, O my Lady, wilt thou be angered so that thy face is turned away?
How long, O my Lady, wilt thou be infuriated so that thy spirit is enraged?
Turn thy neck which thou hast set against me; set thy face toward good favor.
Like the water of the opening of a canal, let thy emotions be released.
My foes like the ground let me trample;
Subdue my hater and cause them to crouch down under me.
Let my prayers and my supplications come to thee.
Let thy great mercy be upon me (Pritchard p.385)

The writer, in the text above, requests the goddess to turn her face so that he may be looked upon in favor and that the evil and afflictions may pass. In passing, the use of the question “How long?” must be taken note of. This phrase is also used in the following passages of the Old Testament: Psalms 4:2; 13:1; 89:46; Proverbs 1:22; and Isaiah 6:11.

The lamentations written to the gods and goddesses can be compared to those to biblical texts other than the Psalms. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos and many others lamented over their land, people, and spiritual conditions. It appears they were not alone, for others, long before the prophets mentioned above, apparently had the same concerns and have written them down to be used in the time of stressful situations.

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

The Ancient Near East, Volume II, Princeton University Press, Chichester, USA. 1975

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. Illinois 2000.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalms 9 And 10: Yahweh The Merciful.

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. When my enemies turned back, they stumbled and perished before you. For you have maintained my just cause; you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment….”

Psalms 9 and 10 were once one text; however, they were divided and put each in its own chapter. The two chapters were thought to be, at one time, a full text due to the composition of the Psalm. Between every second to fourth line, there exists a pattern, which each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is used. It was thought by some scholars at first to be a magical recitation; however, at Ras Shamra, tablets were found using the same technique and it is now thought that such a composition was use to aid memorization by adding a certain structure to the text. In short the text is a song of thanksgiving followed by a lament. The two themes that are predominantly present in the text are Yahweh’s destruction of enemies and Yahweh as divine judge.

The text in full will not be given due to its length. While volumes could be written, there are three important points that stand out. The first area of interest is in Psalms 9:5-6, where the names of the wicked are being blotted out. We will observe one example of how this transpired in the ancient Near East when we inspect the aftermath of the rule of the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut (c. 1479-1458 B.C.). The second point is the theme of “Sheol” and the “gates of death”. Using two examples outside the biblical texts, we will inspect the Egyptian and the Akkadian perspective on the gates of the underworld. Lastly, we will compare the Egyptian hymn “Gratitude for a God’s Mercy” to Psalms 10 to demonstrate the theme of praising the deity for mercy; from enemies and for the poor.

The concept of blotting out names of the wicked and their cities came when competition erupted between the religious cults or political parties. Two examples would include Thutmose III removing Hatshepsut’s images and icons from Egyptian society. Later, and possibly most relevant, the religious reforms of the King Josiah.

The queen Hatshepsut took the throne after her husband Thutmose II met an untimely death. Originally she was to be the co-ruler until Thutmose III was old enough to take the throne. However, Hatshepsut accumulated more and more power to herself. Hatshepsut was a queen of great ambitions. She not only reestablished trade routs that had since deteriorated during the rule of the Hyksos, but she also took to validating herself as queen. She had at her disposal a well oil propaganda machine. Hatshepsut took on such titles as “God’s Wife”, “Lady of the Two Lands”, and the name “Khnemtamun”, which means, “One with Amun”. Hatshepsut used mythology in which she included herself as coming from the deity and called herself “The queen from heaven”. She also would dress as a male pharaoh wearing the symbolic garb of the kings before her.

Hatshepsut also commissioned construction projects and religious icons of herself. In doing so she became one of the most powerful queens of the Egyptian empire. In retaliation, after her death Thutmose III destroyed and defaced many of her writings and religious icons. Some scholars believe that he did this in order to take full control of the kingship. Here is an image of the chiseled out Hatshepsut being blessed by the gods Horus and Thoth at the Temple of Karnack. At Medinet Habu, Ramesses III tried to prevent such destruction by constructing the writings of his war expeditions so deep in the walls that even if the temple was destroyed, and the blocks used elsewhere, they would still contain the hieroglyphs. Here is an image of the described construction. As far as a religious reform, most of the works of Akhenaten, the heretic king, were destroyed. Akhenaten was the king who, during his reign, changed the Egyptian religion to monotheistic ideas and worshipped the god Aten.

Whether the above destruction of names and icons were political, religious or both, the same reformation happened also by King Josiah. Returning to Yahwehism Josiah made sweeping reform and in the text below he crushes the high places to dust in an attempt to stamp out the other cultic practices that previous kings turned a blind eye to. Below we read:

“The king commanded the high priest Hilkiah, the priests of the second order, and the guardians of the threshold, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. He deposed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who made offerings to Baal, to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and all the host of the heavens. He brought out the image of Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the Wadi Kidron, burned it at the Wadi Kidron, beat it to dust and threw the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. He broke down the houses of the male temple prostitutes that were in the house of the Lord, where the women did weaving for Asherah. He brought all the priests out of the towns of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beer-sheba; he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on the left at the gate of the city” (2 Kings 23:4-8 NRSV).

This reform, however, was not enough for Yahweh. In verses 26 and 27 of the same chapter a curse is put on Judah. By the end of the chapter Josiah is killed by the Egyptian King at Megiddo after a fierce battle. So, one can come to the conclusion that the removal of competing political systems or religious practices, were at times broken down by periodic political and religious reform. Many times in the history this happened. Not only was this happening in the early Israeli community, but as seen above, it also occurred in other societies of the world for the same reasons.

Be gracious to me, O Lord. See what I suffer from those who hate me; you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death,…Concerning the gates of death and the underworld, we will view the Egyptian Book of Gates and the Decent of Ishtar. It is out of interest to note that in both of these texts have gates that the deities pass. These two texts may have some influence on Dante’s Inferno, for in both texts the deities pass through the underworld in a series of stages. The text of the Book of Gates is a rather long and complex series of funeral texts that depict the god Ra and the dead king traveling through the underworld in a series of sections representing the twelve hours of the night. The text is complex so we will only discuss certain sections of this underworld that may be most relevant. One relevant example is gate one, or the first hour.

The Majesty of this god standeth up after he hath taken up his position in this Court, and he addresseth words to the gods who are therein, saying, “Open ye to me your doors, and let me come into your Courts! Give ye light unto me, and make ye yourselves guides to me, O ye who came into being, from my members, my word hath gone forth to you. Ye are made of my bodies, I have made you, having fashioned you of my soul, I have created you, I have made you by means of my enchantments, [and] I have come to avenge myself the blood of my members which have risen up against me, and I will bring to destruction that which hath been made for it.”( Budge pp.18-19)

It is with these words that Ra enters the underworld by demanding the gates be opened and here the dead were introduced. Moving on to the third hour we find one of the oldest themes connected to the underworld; the lake of fire. Below we read of this fiery place of torment:

“Those who are in this picture [and those who are in] the house of TET praise this great god, and when this great god hath sent forth words to them, they come to life, for when he hath called to them and hath sent forth his words to them [they have] their water, and they receive their due (literally, heads) in addition to the utterance of his mouth. The work which they have to do in Ament is to hew and to hack souls in pieces, and set restraint upon shadows, and to destroy such doomed beings as have their being in their place of destruction which blazeth with fire. They send forth flames and they cause fires to spring up, and the enemies are as those who have their knives over (or, on) their heads. They wail and they lament when this great god hath passed them by.” (Budge pp.59-60)

The fifth hour, or gate, we read still of torture, from a Judgment Hall like scene.

“The Majesty of this great god saith unto them, Hail, ye who stand at the blocks of torture, and who keep ward at the destruction of the dead, ye whose voices have come into being for you, who have received your words of power, who are endowed with your souls, who sing hymns to the accompaniment of your sistra, who take vengeance on the enemies, who annihilate the dead, who hack in pieces shades [of men and women], who destroy and cut in pieces the dead, who avenge Osiris and hearken unto words near Unnefer, provide ye yourselves with your slaughtering knives, fetter and bind with your hands [this] figure which is with you, so that I may journey past you in peace. Whosoever knoweth this shall pass by the goddess in peace.” (Budge pp.110-115)

In the tenth hour and eleventh hour, the serpent Set-Heh or Apophis is bound and dismembered. With this done he is rendered helpless and defeated.

“The Majesty of this god uttereth the decree, [saying]:–’Hack in pieces and cut asunder the bodies of the enemies and the members of the dead who have been turned upside down, O my father Osiris . . . . . . . . . and let me come forth from it. My father having [once] been helpless hath smitten you, he hath cut up your bodies, he hath hacked in pieces your spirits and your souls, and hath scattered in pieces your shadows, and hath cut in pieces your heads; ye shall never more exist, ye shall be overthrown, and ye shall be cast down headlong into the pits of fire; and ye shall not escape there from, and ye shall not be able to flee from the flames which are in the serpent SET-HEH.” (Budge pp.254-255)

Finally we come to the sunrise or the assent form the underworld:

“Those who are in this picture sing praises unto this great god from dawn, when he taketh up his position in the Hall of the east of the sky. They say unto Ra, ‘O thou who art the producer of [thine own] birth, who dost bring into being [thine own] being, [lord of] homage of every soul . . . . .. Heaven belongeth to thy soul, which taketh up its place therein, and the earth belongeth to thy body, thou lord of homage. Thou sailest over the Horizon, thou takest up thy place in thy shrine, the gods in their bodies praise thee; descend thou into the sky and take thou thy two souls through thy magical protectors.’ The work of these gods in the Tuat is to praise this great god, and they stand in this City and they count up (or, verify) the gods of the country of Mafket (i.e., Sinai). They descend (?) to earth [before] Ra after he hath taken up his position in the sky and doth rise upon the eyes of mankind in their circles.”( Budge p.270)

As we can see, from the passages above, many of the same themes that are common to a modern day, mainstream worshiper, are used. The themes; lake of fire, torture, judgment, binding of the serpent, and the accent from the underworld in triumph are all prevalent. As another example of the same theme, we look at the text concerning the decent of Ishtar to the seven gates of the underworld.

That the palace of the Land of No Return may be glad at they presence.”When the first gate he had made her enter,He stripped and took away the great crown on her head.”Why, o gatekeeper, didst thou take the great crown on my head?””Enter, my lady, thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Underworld.”When the second gate he had made her enter,He stripped and took away the pendants on her ears.”Why, O gatekeeper, didst thou take the pendants on my ears?””Enter, my lady, thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Underworld.”When the third gate he had made her enter,He stripped and took away the chains round her neck.”Why, O gatekeeper, didst thou take the chains round my neck?””Enter, my lady, thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Underworld.”When the fourth gate he had made her enter,He stripped and took away the ornaments on her breast.”Why, O gatekeeper, didst thou take the ornaments on my breast?””Enter, my lady, thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Underworld.”When the fifth gate he had made her enter,He stripped and took away the girdle of birthstones on her hips.”Why, O gatekeeper, didst thou take the girdle of birthstones on my hips?””Enter, my lady, thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Underworld.”When the sixth gate he had made her enter,He stripped and took away the clasps round her hands and feet.”Why, O gatekeeper, didst thou take the clasps round my hands and feet?””Enter, my lady, thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Underworld.”When the seventh gate he had made her enter,He stripped and took away the breechcloth round her body.”Why, O gatekeeper, didst thou take the breechcloth round my body?””Enter, my lady, thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Underworld.”As soon as Ishtar had descended to the Land of No Return,Ereshkigal saw her and burst out at her presence.Ishtar, unreflecting, flew at her.Ereshkigal opened her mouth to speak,”Go, Namtar, lock her up in my palace!Release against her the sixty miseries:Misery of the eyes against her eyes,Misery of the sides against her sides,Misery of the heart against her heart,Misery of the feet against her feet,Misery of the head against her head -Against every part of her, against her whole body!”After Lady Ishtar had descended to the nether world,… (Pritchard pp.107-108)

It becomes apparent that not only are their themes of conquering the sea, creation, and divine warriors, but, also the passage of the deities through the underworld, conquer death and returning in triumph. Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead. (Isaiah 26:19 NRSV)

The last topic discussed will be an example of another prayer where one praises the deity for standing up for the helpless and defending the poor. Moving on to Psalms 10 we hear and important question that possibly every human who worships some kind of deity might ask during in justice or in the time of trouble. “O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more” (Psalms 10:17-18 NRSV).

The Prayer ‘Gratitude for a God’s Mercy’ comes from the nineteenth dynasty. It shows the writers humble gratitude for the recovery of his son from an illness. We read the memorial prayer below:

“Giving praises to Amon. I make him adorations in his name; I give him praises to the height of heaven and to the width of earth; I relate his power to him who travels downstream and to him who travels upstream. Beware ye of him! Repeat him to son and daughter, to great and small; relate him to generations of generations who have not yet come into being; relate him to fishes in the deep, to birds in the heaven; repeat him to him who knows him not and to him who knows him! Beware of him!

Thou art Amon, the lord of the silent man, who comes at the voice of the poor man. If I call to thee when I am distressed, thou comest and thou rescuest me. Thou givest breath to him who is weak; thou rescuest him who is imprisoned. Thou art Amon-Ra, Lord of Thebes, who rescues him who is in the underworld, inasmuch as thou art he who is… when one calls to thee; thou art he who comes from afar” (Pritchard p.380).

The texts are like a rope, and by looking at the rope, we at times forget we also see the small woven strings that make the whole. By carefully unbraiding the strands, we can observe the themes that run through the writing styles and actually see that outside the Old Testament, people dealt with the same issues. The themes that flow through the texts that we have read over and over are also prevalent in those civilizations surrounding the Israeli community. The themes are at times much older then the scriptures. One must not jump to conclusions that every piece of literature was copied, as some have in the past, but we must consider the writing styles of the Near East, and that it was normal to write on common themes that united enemy, friend, and cultures of the past.

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990.

Budge, E. A. Wallis. The Book of Am-Tuat. Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. London 1905.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

Roehrig, Catharine “When a Woman ruled Egypt.” Biblical Archaeology Review March/April 2006: p.64-70.

Quoted biblical texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 8: Yahweh Establishes Legitimacy.

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalms 8:1-9 NRSV)

The above text is thick with imagery and motifs that hearken back to the times of old. In Psalms 8 not only do we find the writer praising Yahweh, but also praising the rank that Yahweh afforded to man. To fully analyze this psalm we need to move slowly through the text because there are many things here that need to be taken note of. The first topic of interest is of Yahweh establishing his kingdom after his enemies are suppressed. Many will view this in New Testament themes, but for the time being we must put all such thoughts on hold in order to view the text from a different angle and viewpoint. The next topic is the making of man a little lower than the “gods”. Some texts render this as angels; however, some examples will be given on why it should be rendered as “gods” as we progress. Below we will take a look at who Yahweh’s enemies were and what type of adversaries he had to overcome in order to claim legitimacy in the heavens and over the earth.

So who were the adversaries of Yahweh? We look in a few descriptive texts and find the seemingly mythical enemies. In Psalms 89:9-11

You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it—you have founded them.

and again in Psalms 74:13-14:

You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

The enemies of Yahweh also can be found in two verses of Isaiah 5:9-10:

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago! Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over?

From the above texts we can see that there is a pattern and the mythological aspect to the enemies of Yahweh. They are (רַ֖הַב) Rahab, תּנּה))Tannin, (ים)Yamm, and (תּהם)Tehom. All three of these gods were the associated with the sea. Rahab, can here be compared to Tiamat, Tannin was dragon or sea monster that can also be compared to Tiamat, Yamm was the sea god who Baal defeated, and lastly Tehom was often referenced to Tiamat, but it is also thought that it was the great waters that Elohiym divided. So the Epic of Enuma Elish is a strong comparison here. After Yahweh slays the sea and divides the waters he is free to build his heavenly kingdom, creation, and take his rightful kingship.

The same problem also happened to Baal. Baal had to defeat the god Yamm in order to gain legitimacy in the heavenly council so that he would not be mocked by his enemies. It was not until he smashed Yamm in the skull with the two clubs made by the craft god Korthar that he was able to have a temple built.

“The mighty will fall to the ground,
the powerful into the Slime.”
These words had just come from her mouth,
this speech from her lips, she had just spoken,
when he groaned from under Prince Sea’s throne.
And Kothar-wa-Hasis replied:
“Let me tell you, Prince Baal,
let me repeat , Rider on the Clouds:
behold, your enemy, Baal,
behold, you will kill your enemy,
behold, you will annihilate your foes.
You will take your eternal kingship,
your dominion forever and ever.” (Coogan p.88)

Now we come to the point that seemed so long getting to. It is worthy to note here the big debate Yahweh had with David concerning the building of the temple. Because David’s enemies were not vanquished and being labeled a “man of war” the building of the temple of Yahweh was passed on to his son Solomon. In I Kings 5:3-6 we read:

“You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor misfortune. So I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to my father David, “Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.’ Therefore command that cedars from the Lebanon be cut for me. My servants will join your servants, and I will give you whatever wages you set for your servants; for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.”

After the building of the temple there came credibility to both Yahweh and Solomon; for all their adversaries were put down. The temple structure became one of the highlights of the reign of Solomon. It is now that the implications from the New Testament can be heaped on.

It is commonly believed the true kingdom of God cannot be here on earth until all of the enemies of Christ are vanquished. It would also imply that the account of the Satan being thrown from heaven may have possibly been done so in order to build the New Testament version of the Kingdom; with mansions and streets of gold. Many times the Satan is referred to in the New Testament as the Serpent, with strong imagery of the past being used in the present. So as the varied accounts of the end times go; Christ returns, overthrows the antichrist, suppresses evil for a disputed amount of time, and then at the final battle puts the sinful to the sword and claims heavenly and earthly kingship.

It is most interesting how the themes of old shed light on the importance of how belief systems and their accounts are constructed. Even cults and religions who are out of the main stream have use such imagery and motifs for the credibility it affords.

Yet you have made them a little lower than God – Moving on to the topic of man being created a little lesser then the gods. In the Hebrew the text is clearly rendered, אלהים Elohiym”. The definition from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament reads:

“lh is the assumed root of ‘el, ‘eloah, and ‘elohim, which mean “god” or “God.” The Ugaritic term for “god” or the “chief god” is ‘il, plural ‘ilm, occasionally plural ‘ilhm (cf. UT 19: no. 163). The Phoenician term is ‘l “El”; the plural is ‘lm which seems to be construed sometimes as a singular (cf. Z. Harris, Grammar of the Phoenician Language, Jewish Publication Society, 1936, p. 77). The Aramaic is ‘elah, plural ‘elahin. The Akkadian form is ilu”

With this in mind, the term that the writer of this essay suggests for Psalms 8:7 should read: “Yet you have made them a little lower than gods.” This makes scene for two reasons. One reason is that men who are holy are allowed to stand and witness the judgment of the lord. The idea of the holy council was been discussed in pervious essays and seems to fit this context. Another reason, in light of Psalms 82, it seems proper that Yahweh tells the unjust gods of the council to reform or be face with the punishment of mortality. So the next step down would be mortal man.

We close with a text concerning the creation man to glorify the gods and to be in their service. Below we read the account of Marduk coming to the same conclusion almost as Yahweh. The text here is proper when discussing Psalms chapters 8, 82, and man being a little lesser then the gods. From The Seven Tablets of Creation, we read:

When Marduk heard the word of the gods,
His heart prompted him and he devised [a cunning plan].
He opened his mouth and unto Ea [he spake],
[That which] he had conceived in his heart he imparted [unto him]:
“My blood will I take and bone will I [fashion],
“I will make man, that man may … […].
“I will create man who shall inhabit [the earth],”
“That the service of the gods may be established, and that [their] shrines[may be built].
“But I will alter the ways of the gods,
and I will change [their paths]; (King 88-89)

Archer. Gleason L. Jr. , Bruse K. Waltke. & R. Laird Harris, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Electronic Edition, Moody Press. Chicago, Illinois 1980.

Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

King, Leonard William. The Seven Tablets of Creation. Luzac and Co. London 1902.

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