Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Delicious, Nutritious Brain Food!

I've spent the better part of the past six hours in the UConn library studying Hebrew, reading up on incredibly amusing and varying accounts of the "historical" life of Hillel, and reading over some things I'd read on Shabbos and wanted to make note of while the texts were still (sort of) fresh in my mind. So, as always, I have to share some interesting reads with the audience since, well, it's what I do. I have a running list of things that are blowing my mind that I will -- well, probably better hope -- to research and write on. So among this note-taking, I've come across some amusing and thought-provoking things.

This first excerpt is from "The Bible and the Ancient Near East" by Gordon and Rendsburg. I read this on Shabbos and immediately was laughing out loud. I read the passage to Tuvia, who found it equally amusing. It seems that so very little has changed in the past 3,000+ years. From Chapter 8, The Patriarchal Age, we read about a series of texts found in the town of Nuzu in northeastern Mesopotamia, dating from the 15th and 14th centuries BCE.
Among the Nuzu texts is a series of tablets recording the lawsuit filed by the citizens against the mayor, who was guilty of complicity with a kidnaping [sic] ring, of accepting bribes, and stealing wood and misappropriating workers from public projects for his own purposes, and of shady dealings with a woman of the community.
I can think of at least a half-dozen ongoing cases that this sounds like. It is amazing how people never change, and everything we do is a copy of something that has happened before. And we're not talking about Rome or something here, we're talking about the Ancient Near East. Thousands of years ago!

The second little bit is not so much funny as it is interesting, and it comes from the same chapter.
The Patriarchs represent a microcosm of Israel. Gd's intervention in their personal lives is akin to the role He plays in the life of Israel. Moreover, Israel is not a powerful nation like Egypt or Babylonia; instead it is a "barren" country, and a "younger son" among the nations of the world. Gd has made Israel prolific and He has made it His firstborn (Exodus 4:22), ideas reflected in the Patriarchal narratives.
This, of course, is referring to the common theme in the Hebrew bible of the younger son outdoing the older son -- Isaac/Ishmael, Jacob/Esau, Joseph/his brothers. It's an interesting motif that characterizes just what Israel is.

I've become curious about the role/idea of "Titans" in the Ancient Near East and perhaps, though I'm guessing there's nothing on it, in Judaism. I have found a book by someone who suggests that the Greeks borrowed for their Titans myth from the Ancient Near East, but I have yet to leave my little office to go scavenge for the book. The only reason I find myself intrigued about this is because in "Stories from Ancient Canaan" by Coogan, there is a passage about the Canaanite gods being "larger than life. They travel by giant strides -- 'a thousand fields, ten thousand acres at each step' -- and their control over human destiny is absolute." I read that and immediately thought "the Titans of Greek myths!"

It's funny how, the more I study the ancient texts of Judaism and the Ancient Near East, words simply pop out lyrically as echoes of one another. For example, when reading the Akkadian Atrahasis (a photo of which is to the right) the words describing a terrorizing storm echo the words in the Hebrew bible in reference to the plague of darkness (of the parshah just a few weeks ago!) -- the Atrahasis epic states that "One person did not see another, They could not recognize each other in the catastrophe" (iii, 13-14) and from Exodus 10:23: "People could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he was."

The similarities between the texts of the Ancient Near East are endless and offer a wealth of information about just WHO we the Israelites were and are. I find it all really fascinating ... and I guess I sort of hope my readers do, too!