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Tag: Mark S. Smith

Melvin: Human Knowledge is Sinful

“Similarly, when considering whether to grant immortality to Gilgamesh, Enlil notes his recovery of antediluvian knowledge, specifically such arts of civilization as the “rites of hand-washing and mouth-washing,” from his meeting with Ziusudra (= Atrahasis).

(The Death of Bilgames, M 49–62 (George, The Epic of Gilgamesh, pp. 198– 99). See also Andrew R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition, and Cuneiform Texts (2 vols.; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 1:98.)

Although he does not receive immortality, Enlil affirms Gilgamesh’s divine status and assures him that he will become a chief deity of the Underworld.

Thus, there is a well-established background for the association of knowledge with divinity in Genesis 3:1–7. The first humans, by eating the forbidden fruit, have attempted to become divine by appropriating divine knowledge.

This is an act of defiance which results in their expulsion from paradise, but Yahweh’s confession to the divine council in Genesis 3:22 that the humans “have become like one of us, knowing good and evil” indicates that their attempt has been to some extent successful.

William Blake (1757-1827 AD), God Judging Adam, 1795 AD.  Currently held at the Tate Gallery, generous gift of W. Graham Robertson, 1939.  Also held by the William Blake Archive.  This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=but294.1.cprint.01&vg=cpd&vcontext=cpd&java=no

William Blake (1757-1827 AD), God Judging Adam, 1795 AD.
Currently held at the Tate Gallery, generous gift of W. Graham Robertson, 1939.
Also held by the William Blake Archive.
This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=but294.1.cprint.01&vg=cpd&vcontext=cpd&java=no

By placing humanity’s reception of the divine knowledge which leads to civilization as humanity’s first act of sin in the Eden story, Genesis 1–11 has removed the need for divine mediators. Humanity has already accessed divine knowledge without the help of divine mediators (unless one considers the serpent a divine mediator), and there is no longer any role for them.

The elimination of divine beings by transferring their roles to other beings (i.e., convergence) has been noted as a key component in the development of monotheism.

The transfer of the attributes and roles of other deities to Yahweh during the First Temple period set the stage for the elimination of those deities at the end of that period and into the exilic and post-exilic periods.

(Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel􏰙􏰋􏰊􏰉􏰇􏰋􏰂􏰃􏰓􏰆􏰈􏰎􏰇􏰒 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990), pp. 145–60.

Click to zoom.  Thomas Cole (1801-48), Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, 1828. Held by the Waleska Evans James Gallery 236, generous gift of Martha C. Karolin for the M. and M. Karolin Collection of American Paintings, 1815-1865 AD. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/expulsion-from-the-garden-of-eden-33060

Click to zoom.
Thomas Cole (1801-48), Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, 1828. Held by the Waleska Evans James Gallery 236, generous gift of Martha C. Karolin for the M. and M. Karolin Collection of American Paintings, 1815-1865 AD.
http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/expulsion-from-the-garden-of-eden-33060

It would seem that in its final form Genesis 1–11 has performed a similar move with regard to divine mediators. They have been eliminated by the transfer of their roles, not to Yahweh, but to humans.

The result is that the cultural achievements in Genesis 4–11 are human achievements, without divine intervention, although they are ultimately the result of humanity’s reception of divine knowledge.

At the same time, by associating divine knowledge with the sin in Eden, Genesis 1–11 negatively portrays the civilization which arises as a result of that knowledge.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 14-5.

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.

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