Surveying the Scene
This is a summary of James’ Atwell’s book, Sources of the Old Testament.
This can be bought on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Sources-Old-Testament-Understanding/dp/0567084736
Atwell mentions the three civilisations that have a great bearing on the development of the Hebrew Bible. On opposite sides of Israel were Egypt and Babylon. Two of the earliest civilisations. Babylon got there just before but both were very early and very impressive. Closer to home were the Caananites, who we know about through the Ugarit scripts. There are several similarities in their beliefs. They all place great importance on creation epics, and all seem to believe in a pre-creation substance that was formed into order. Some of the gods were even created out of this. The sea features as linked to the pre-created stuff.
Chief God Marduk. Not first God. Won a battle against Tiamat (sea). Enuma Elish. Creation account of Marduk as champion who defeats Tiamat and creates the world, sea and sky out of her body. Human beings made out of the blood of the executed god Kingu. Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh goes on adventure to edge of creation ad is frustrated in his quest for eternal life. Includes flood story similar to Noah.
Ba’al chief God, the storm god. Champion of order. High god El is the creator. Created. Defeats the sea in furious battle (Yam). Passively sinks below the throne of Death (Mot) but is raised up. This raising is linked to a key harvest festival. Ba’al’s kingship not recognized till he has a temple. The high god El gives him planning permission. Ugarit found in 1929 Northern Syria, modern day Ras Shamra.
The Sun god (Re) is a divine pre-figuration of the Pharoah, the former rising from the primaeval ocean (Nun). Female goddess Ma’at personified order, symbolised by a feather.There was sea at the beginning and then a primaeval hill appeared.
The Israelites are introduced as a group on the edge. A nomadic group wanting to settle.
Some particularly nomadic customs they have are the link between a god and the leaders of the clan “the God of Abraham”, the “Fear of Isaac”. The god was not associated with a place like the gods of city states but with a people group.
There seems to be good reasons for believing that Israel did come out of Egypt, at least a small group. Atwell mentions that they may well have gone down because of a famine, and then sold themselves to Pharaoh to pay for food. (“Shall we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land in exchange for food. We with our land will become slaves to Pharaoh; just give us seed, so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate”, Genesis 47:19). It is noted that Moses is an Egyptian name. The Exodus may have involved the Israelites escaping and then the Egyptian army taking a short cut over the sea and then being overwhelmed by a storm. This makes sense of the “Song of the Sea” in Exodus 15:1-5.
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
2 The Lord is my strength and my might,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name.
4 “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;
his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
5 The floods covered them;
they went down into the depths like a stone.”
The link with Midian seems genuine as the Midianites were later hated enemies of Israel. Sinai was in Midian. The divine name YHWH is associated with the earliest accounts we have of the Exodus and of Sinai. That YHWH is linked to Sinai makes sense of 1 Kings 20:23:
Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.
Is Hosea 4:2 the genesis for the Ten Commandments?
Swearing, lying, and murder,
and stealing and adultery break out;
bloodshed follows bloodshed.
In the nomadic way of life there was one tribal god; in the settled agricultural life there were generally many gods. The god of the storm (Ba’al) brought the much needed rain, then there were the fertility gods.
Only place the counsell of the gods appears in the Yahwist is Genesis 6 (the Angel marriages).
Every conversation of YHWH is with human beings except with the snake. One other indication of the counsel of the gods is with Babel “Come, let us go down and confuse their language” (Genesis 11:7). Indicates the pre-history of the text in a polytheistic environment.
While the creation accounts are fundamental to Near-Eastern beliefs the human-centredness (love of God) of the OT accounts is not. Poetry very important in nomadic life.
God also seen as judge, as well as creator and sustainer. There is a close parallel between God’s confrontation with Adam and Eve, and Cain, with the prophets and Israel.
David moved his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem. He therefore became involved with Canaanite religion. It was not till the eight century (Hezekiah) and the seventh century (Josiah) that removal of other gods took place.
There seems to have been an annual festival at which YHWH was enthroned, similar to previous festivals with Ba’al.
There were three importanat gods associated with Jerusalem. First El Elyon (God Most High) the Canaanite god who created the world. Melchizidek greets Abram saying:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
maker of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
This name continues in the biblical psalms, e.g. Psalm 57:2 “For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.“
Now Melchizidek translates as “(my) King is (the god) Sedeq”. Sedeq also appears in Adonizek: “(my) Lord is (the god) Sedeq”. Also Zadok the priest. This is usually translated as righteousness. In Psalm 85:11 “righteousness will look down from the sky” righteousness is almost personified as a god.
The third god is “Shalem”. Jerusalem can be translated “foundation of (the god) Shalem. In the Caananite religon Shalem (Dusk) was paired with Shachar (Dawn). This names seems to appear in Absolom and possibly Solomon. It is likely that Shalem led to the abiding association of Jerusalem with peace (Shalom). Shalom is about a holistic right order. Sedeq is about this particular thing being right, or that particular judgement. Shalom is about the whole being right.
Righteousness (Sedeq) and Peace (Shalom) often are twinned together. Psalm 85:10: “righteousness and peace will kiss each other”.
After the move to Jerusalem, YHWH was believed to be the creator God.
There was also a belief that YHWH would renew the heavens and the earth and that David’s line would last for ever. That an Anointed leader would establish it.
This and the next chapter are to do with the influence of other cultures on the Hebrew wisdom tradition. It is pointed out that the wisdom books Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, while referring to YHWH have some striking differences. There is no reference to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac etc, or to Moses and the Exodus; there is no mention of Israel being a special people, or interest in the Davidic line or temple sacrifices.
There is a huge emphasis placed on order. That the universe has a grain to it, and the importance of living so as to go with the grain. If you do, things will work out well for you. Going with the grain means telling the truth, being honest in business, working hard, being kind to the weak, not taking a bribe, and avoiding adultery. The other way involves being dishonest with weights, being lazy, committing murder or adultery.
It has been noticed that there is a very close relation between a famous Egyptian work called The Instruction of Amenemope. Especially Proverbs 22:17-23:11. From Wikipedia:
(Proverbs 22:17-18):“Incline thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, And apply thine heart to my doctrine; For it is pleasant if thou keep them in thy belly, that they may be established together upon thy lips”.
(Amenemope, ch. 1):”Give thine ear, and hear what I say, And apply thine heart to apprehend; It is good for thee to place them in thine heart, let them rest in the casket of thy belly; That they may act as a peg upon thy tongue”
(Proverbs 22:22):“Rob not the poor, for he is poor, neither oppress (or crush) the lowly in the gate.”
(Amenemope, ch. 2):”Beware of robbing the poor, and oppressing the afflicted.”
(Proverbs 22:24-5): “Do not befriend the man of anger, Nor go with a wrathful man, Lest thou learn his ways and take a snare for thy soul.”
(Amenemope, ch. 10): “Associate not with a passionate man, Nor approach him for conversation; Leap not to cleave to such an one; That terror carry thee not away.”
At certain points during the times of Solomon and Hezekiah there was a close link with Egypt. Solomon is meant to have married the Phaoroh’s daughter. Also in Hezekiah’s time. An interesting verse in Proverbs 25 hints that this section of Proverbs may have been written during Hezekiahs’ time, Proverbs 25:1: “These are other proverbs of Solomon that the officials of King Hezekiah of Judah copied.”
Proverbs often uses parallelism e.g. “Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22). Sometimes the second maxim mirrors the first as in this case, bit other times it contrasts with it, e.g. “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but an accurate weight is his delight” (Proverbs 11:1).
The book of Job is thought to have been written 500-300BC but there is an old Mesopotamian work that is similar dated to 1500BC. This is called The Summerian Job. From the book of Job as well as beliefs in the order of the world is the understanding that man is flawed, is not prefect, and the transcendence of God. Job asks lots of almost scientific questions abut how things work.
Ecclesiastes mentions the tedium of order, whereas Proverbs and Job celebrate it.
Wisdom is to be found in the Hebrew scriptures outside of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes. For example consider Psalm 49:1-4:
1 Hear this, all you peoples;
give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
2 both low and high,
rich and poor together.
3 My mouth shall speak wisdom;
the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
4 I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.
The invitation is to all people, not just Israel, to listen to wisdom. Also to all levels of society. The Psalm goes on to mention issues found in Job and Ecclesiastes.
That bad choices lead to bad consequences appears in many places in the Hebrew Bible, e.g. Adam and Eve eating the apple leads to man having to toil for food, and women suffering pain in pregnancy. Also in the narrative of the Israelite and Judean kings – whenever they sin bad things happen and when they do good, good things happen.
The account of Adam and Eve seems to have a definite Sumerian origin. Rib in Sumerian means “the lady who makes live”.
Genesis 1 seems to have an Egyptian origin.
Like in the Epic of Gilgamesh there is a strong sense that people are not allowed to get too much glory. Hubris means excessive pride or confidence (in Greek tragedy – excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis). Consider the episode of the Tower of Babel or Eve taking the fruit of knowledge of good and evil.
Wisdom is seen in the Joseph Narrative and the Succession Narrative. The Succession narrative is found in 2 Samuel 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2. The first passage relates the family history of King David of Israel; the second, the succession of Solomon to the Davidic throne.
Genesis 1-11 at the beginning of the Hebrew Bible tell us what it means that God is creator and that human beings are created by him.
The Foaming of the Sources
This chapter looks at prophecy in the Ancient Near East. There was prophecy in a place called Mari, on the river Euphrates, dating back to the eighteenth century BC. Just before Hammurabi. The prophecy is along the lines of “Thus spoke Annunitum” and goes on to say in effect “The palace is safe and sound”. These prophecies were found in cuneiform on tablets. Prophecy was generally linked to the court, and concerned with the safety of the state. We can already see some links with Israel where we have the name of the prophet and often a message such as fear not. Prophecy was sought at difficult times such as invasion, famines, danger of a coup etc. The King generally wanted to hear that all would be ok. In Israel this is similar – prophecy is sought at difficult times, and is linked generally to the court.
Prophecy in Israel really started with Samuel, linked to Saul, and then continued for the next 500 years. It went with the fall of the monarchy.
An interesting development in Isaiah is that the Holiness of God is much more important that the security of the Judean state.
Prophecy in Israel was quite diverse. You had the bands of prophets which King Saul falls in with. Then there are lone prophets like Elijah, Elisha and the 12 minor prophets. Some like Amos do not consider themselves to be prophets but are just speaking out prophecy. Then there are the prophets linked to the King like Nathan and Isaiah.
The fact that Israel’s prophets foretold judgement and spoke loudly about sin was quite unusual in the Ancient Near East.
Isaiah is well named Isaiah of Jerusalem as he is concerned with Jerusalem, the Temple, the King and its people.
The incident in which Hezekiah faces Assyria is mentioned. There are several layers in the text. First Hezekiah pays out money.
14 King Hezekiah of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear.” The king of Assyria demanded of King Hezekiah of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.
Second there is the debate between the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army at Jerusalem. Third there is the miracle of the 185,000 slain outside Jerusalem. The latter is theological perspective.
The Healing Flow
Atwell mentions Deutero-Isaiah responsible for Isaiah 40-55. His listeners were in Babylon which seemed very successful with their massive ziggurats and excellent intellectual and liturgical life. Back home Jerusalem is in ruins and the Temple destroyed. This figure was preaching that God was about to create a way in the desert – a way so that they could go back to their own land. Destruction of a temple and exile of a people was usually a sign of a defeated god. The Israelites would have seen idols all over the place and with the power and prestige of Babylon would have been very tempted to think their god was not as good as the Babylonian gods like Marduk. The exile happened because of Israel’s sin and not because of any weakness of YHWH.
Cyrus is mentioned may times in the first half of Deutero-Isaiah (40-48); in the second half Jerusalem features strongly. The way he is spoke about is similar to the Cyrus Cylinder, but there the focus is on the god Marduk.
Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced at [my good] deeds, and he pronounced a sweet blessing over me, Cyrus, the king who fears him, and over Cambyses, the son [my] issue, [and over] my all my troops, that we might proceed further at his exalted command [The Cyrus Scroll].
There is a lot of talk about a new thing that God is going to do, which involves salvation at the hands of a pagan king.
There is also an emphasis on God on creator who will bring order. Before Pace (Shalom) can come, right order (Sedeq) must be established. So this is like with creation, order coming out of chaos.
Regarding the different parts of Isaiah 1 (1-39), 2 (40-55) and 3 (56-66). It is considered by Williamson that Deutero-Isaiah believed that the forst part of Isaiah had been sealed and was waiting for the time of salvation. Deutero-Isaiah believes that that time has come, and so we have more material about this new thing. See for example Isaiah 8:16 ‘Bind up the testimony, seal the teaching among my disciples” or 29:11 “The vision of all this has become for you like the words of a sealed document. If it is given to those who can read, with the command, “Read this,” they say, “We cannot, for it is sealed.”’
The Servant Songs.
Isaiah 52:13- 53:12
The servant songs concern (i)Cyrus, (ii) Deutero-Isaiah?, (iii) Deutero-Isaiah?, (iv) A biography of Deutero-Isaiah after he was murdered, but resurrection accounts talking about the first wave of Jews returning to Jerusalem after the edict of Cyrus.
The Single Stream
It seems that Israel’s beliefs about God evolved. At first there was the God of the Father’s. Then tied up with escape from Egypt and some encounter around Sinai they believe that there God is called YHWH, and is associated with that mountain. As they settle they come to believe that YHWH is the creator God.
During the exile several beliefs evolve. YHWH came to be seen as the only god, not one among many. Also they believed that he was not part of creation. Thus working from outside he could renew, re-create the heavens and the earth. Also the belief emerged that he had created the world out of nothing.