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Category: Book of Job

The Children of El in Ancient Ugarit

“There is, of course, a logical problem with the twofold reference of the Nephilim to the antediluvian warriors and to the giant inhabitants of Canaan on the eve of the Israelite conquest. The flood intervenes, which kills all living creatures on earth: “Everything with life’s breath in its nostril, everything that lived on dry land, died” (Genesis 7:22 J).

The continuance of the Nephilim contradicts the testimony of the flood story (thus providing a lively subject for post biblical exegetes). The likely solution to this problem is that the writer was heir to traditions about the Nephilim that were not internally consistent, but was constrained by the audience’s horizons of expectations to relate these traditions accurately.

Such internal inconsistency is characteristic of oral traditions in many cultures, and we may point to this particularly inconsistency as a sign of the oral multiformity of the narrative lore of ancient Israel. As with the Sons of God, the Nephilim no doubt populated more stories in ancient Israelite culture than the brief texts that have been preserved.

To gain a richer understanding of Genesis 6:1-4–both of its content and its gaps–it is useful to consider the longer history (the discursive longue durée) of these narrative elements in ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures. The most immediate cultural context, for this and much else in ancient Israel, is the culture of Canaan from which early Israel emerged.

We have seen above that the term “Sons of God” has a direct antecedent in the Canaanite bn’il, “Sons / Children of El.” This group is referred to several times in Ugaritic literature of the Late Bronze Age and is carried on in several later West Semitic cultures of the Iron Age.

"22 alphabet" by Chaos - self-scan of old picture more than 10 years in syria (PD in syria). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Ugaritic text“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In the Ugaritic texts the “Sons / Children of El” are the members of El’s divine assembly (Mark S. Smith, trans., Simon B. Parker, ed., Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, 1997). They are described as the offspring of El and his chief wife, the goddess Asherah. One of El’s epithets is ‘ab bn ‘il, “Father of the Children of El,” indicating his paternity of the gods, and Asherah is called qnyt ‘ilm, “Creatress of the gods.”

The Children of El are often shown feasting in heaven, as is the wont of the gods. At one point Baal recounts an shameful–but obscure–event during a feast in the divine assembly:

“… He stood and abased me.

He arose and spat on me.

Amid the ass[em]bly of the Children of El bn’ilm” 

(Manfred Dietrich, Oswald Loretz, and Joaquín Sanmartín. Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Íbn Hani and Other Places. (CAT). KTU 2d enlarged edition. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1995, 1.4.iii.12-4)

Usually the gods feast in heaven, but occasionally they attend feasts on earth in the company of humans, such as the wedding feast for King Kirta (CAT 1.15.iii).

The Children of El are immortal, as the goddess Anat affirms in her (probably spurious) promise of immortality to the mortal hunter Aqhat:

“Ask for life, Aqhat the Hero.

Ask for life, and I’ll give it.

Deathlessness–I’ll endow you.

I’ll let you count years with Baal.

Count months with the Children of El bn’il.”

(CAT 1.17.vi.26-9, after Mark S. Smith, trans., in Parker, ed., Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, 61, and Ronald Hendel, The Epic of the Patriarch: The Jacob Cycle and the Narrative Traditions of Canaan and Israel, 1987, pp. 74-81.)

Though immortal, the Children of El are less powerful than El. In the Kirta epic, El asks the divine assembly seven times if any among them can remove disease, but they are silent. Apparently El alone has the power to heal:

“Stay seated, my children (bny), on your seats.

On your elevated thrones.

As for me, I’ll use skills and create.

I’ll create a remover of illness.

A dispeller of disease.”

(CAT 1.16n.24-8).

Interestingly, this passage appears to equate the Children of El with the stars, comparable to the biblical concept in Job 38:7 and the biblical term “Host of Heaven” (see above).

The Children of El in the Ugaritic texts, cognate to the biblical Sons of God, are subordinate to the high god El, just as the biblical Sons of God are subordinate to Yahweh. They are less powerful than El and they occasionally visit humans on earth. Nowhere in the extant texts, however, do the Children of El engage in sex with humans.

In one curious text, Baal may have sex with a cow, which bears “a bull for Baal” (CAT 1.10.35, see Smith, trans., Parker, ed., Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, 181-7), but there is no other inter-species sex that we can discern.”

Ronald Hendel, “The Nephilim Were on the Earth: Genesis 6:1-4 and its Ancient Near Eastern Context,” in Christoph Auffarth and Loren T. Stuckenbruck, eds., The Fall of the Angels, Brill, 2004, pp. 22-4.

The Babylonian Zodiac is 1000 Years Older than Sargon of Accad

“The contents of the fifth tablet introduce us to a side of Babylonian religion which occupied an important and prominent position, at all events in the official cult. At the beginning of the present century, writers upon the ancient East were fond of enlarging upon a Sabaistic system of faith which they supposed had once been the dominant form of religion in Western Asia.

The accompanying illustration, which is reproduced from the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk (Brit. Mus., No. 90,858), supplies much information about the symbols of the gods, and of the Signs of the Zodiac in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, King of Babylon, about 1120 B.C..  Thus in Register 1, we have the Star of Ishtar, the crescent of the Moon-god Sin, and the disk of Shamash the Sun-god.  In Reg. 2 are three stands (?) surmounted by tiaras, which represent the gods Anu, Enlil (Bel) and Ea respectively.  In Reg. 3 are three altars (?) or shrines (?) with a monster in Nos. 1 and 2. Over the first is the lance of Marduk, over the second the mason's square of Nabû, and over the third is the symbol of the goddess Ninkharsag, the Creatress.  In Reg. 4 are a standard with an animal's head, a sign of Ea; a two-headed snake = the Twins; an unknown symbol with a horse's head, and a bird, representative of Shuḳamuna and Shumalia.  In Reg. 5 are a seated figure of the goddess Gula and the Scorpion-man; and in Reg. 6 are forked lightning, symbol of Adad, above a bull, the Tortoise, symbol of Ea (?), the Scorpion of the goddess Ishkhara, and the Lamp of Nusku, the Fire-god.  Down the left-hand side is the serpent-god representing the constellation of the Hydra. http://sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/img/016.png http://sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/blc07.htm

The accompanying illustration, which is reproduced from the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk (Brit. Mus., No. 90,858), supplies much information about the symbols of the gods, and of the Signs of the Zodiac in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, King of Babylon, about 1120 B.C..
Thus in Register 1, we have the Star of Ishtar, the crescent of the Moon-god Sin, and the disk of Shamash the Sun-god.
In Reg. 2 are three stands (?) surmounted by tiaras, which represent the gods Anu, Enlil (Bel) and Ea respectively.
In Reg. 3 are three altars (?) or shrines (?) with a monster in Nos. 1 and 2. Over the first is the lance of Marduk, over the second the mason’s square of Nabû, and over the third is the symbol of the goddess Ninkharsag, the Creatress.
In Reg. 4 are a standard with an animal’s head, a sign of Ea; a two-headed snake = the Twins; an unknown symbol with a horse’s head, and a bird, representative of Shuḳamuna and Shumalia.
In Reg. 5 are a seated figure of the goddess Gula and the Scorpion-man; and in Reg. 6 are forked lightning, symbol of Adad, above a bull, the Tortoise, symbol of Ea (?), the Scorpion of the goddess Ishkhara, and the Lamp of Nusku, the Fire-god.
Down the left-hand side is the serpent-god representing the constellation of the Hydra.
http://sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/img/016.png
http://sacred-texts.com/ane/blc/blc07.htm

 Star-worship was imagined to be the most primitive phase of Oriental religion, and the reference to it in the book of Job was eagerly seized upon as an evidence of the antiquity of the book. Dupuis resolved all human forms of faith into Zodiacal symbols, and Sir William Drummond went far in the same direction. That the first gods of the heathen were the planets and stars of heaven, was regarded by high authorities as an incontrovertible fact.

The plains of Shinar were held to be the earliest home of this Sabaism or star-worship. The astronomy and astrology of Babylonia had been celebrated even by Greek and Latin authors, and scholars were inclined to see in the “Chaldaean shepherds” the first observers of the heavens.

The “astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators” of Babylon, are enumerated in the Old Testament (Isaiah xlvii. 13); and the small cylinders brought by travelers from Bagdad, with their frequent representations of a star or sun, seemed to leave no doubt that the deities of Babylonia were in truth the heavenly bodies. The decipherment of the cuneiform inscriptions has shown that the belief in Babylonian “Sabaism” was, after all, not altogether a chimera.

Babylonia was really the cradle of astronomical observations. Long before the lofty zigurrâti or “towers” of the temples were reared, where the royal astronomers had their stations and from whence they sent their reports to the king, the leading groups of stars had been named, a calendar had been formed, and the eclipses of the sun and moon had been noted and recorded.

The annual path of the sun through the sky had been divided into twelve sections, like the twelve kasbu or double hours of the day, and each section had been distinguished by its chief constellation or star. It was thus that the Zodiac first came into existence.

The names given to its constellations are not only Accadian, but they also go back to the totemistic age of Accadian faith. The first sign, the first constellation, was that of “the directing bull,” so named from the solar bull who at the vernal equinox began to plough his straight furrow through the sky, directing thereby the course of the year.

The last sign but one was “the fish of Ea;” while midway between the two, presiding over the month whose name was derived from its “facing the foundation” or “beginning” of the year, was the great star of the Scorpion.

The fact that the year thus began with Taurus proves the antiquity of the Chaldean Zodiac, and of the months of thirty days which corresponded to its several signs. From about B.C. 2500 and onwards, the precession of the equinoxes caused Aries, and not Taurus, to be the asterism into which the sun entered at spring-time; the period when Taurus ushered in the year reached back from that date to about B.C. 4700.

The Zodiacal circle may therefore have been invented nearly a thousand years before Sargon of Accad was born; and that it was invented at an early epoch is demonstrated by its close connection with the Accadian calendar.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 396-8.

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