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Das Angesicht JHWHs. Studien zu seinem höfischen und kultischen Bedeutungshintergrund in den Psalmen und in Exodus 32–34.
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2008. XI, 407 S. m. Abb. gr.8° = Forschungen zum Alten Testament, 55. Lw. EUR 89,00. ISBN 978-3-16-149729-3.
Tryggve N. D. Mettinger
Hartenstein’s monograph on »seeing the face of YHWH« is a contribution that will claim the serious attention of students interested in the Old Testament notions of God. The problem discussed is this: »Handelt es sich um eine Redeweise oder um einen konkret-anschaulichen Vorstellungszusammenhang und somit um ein Teilelement eines Konzepts der ›Gestalt‹ Gottes, das zu den kulturellen Verstehensvoraussetzungen des Psalters gehört?« (Preface). The first alternative was suggested by J. Reindl (1970) and the second by F. Nötscher (1924). In his fresh investigation, using the tools of comparative iconography and tradition history, Hartenstein comes down on the side of Nötscher.
The book is organized as follows: After a thorough introduction on method (some 60 pages), the author first presents a close reading of Ps 27 and then offers a synoptic survey of all passages with »the face« of YHWH in the Psalms. In the third and final part he discusses the same notion in Exodus 32–34.
The introduction is highly important and the methodological observations are well integrated in the process of analysis that follows. The anthropomorphism in question is by no means an empty figure of speech but contributes to give visual condensation to the symbol system of ancient Israel. H. makes fruitful use of J.-P. Vernant’s views about the symbol of the divine body in Greek religion. Here the body of the gods is primarlily a symbolic phenomenon, a code that helps express the relation between human and deity. Ancient Israel envisaged its deity in sociomorphic terms, more exactly in basileomorphic notions of its God (God as king). Israel’s God unites two diffent royal »roles«. As the enthroned God YHWH rules his subjects (here belongs the notion of divine audience so important to the work); as the theophanic God he acts as judge and saviour.
Israel’s cultic iconography is of prime importance here, and the book devotes proper attention to the issue of aniconism and veto on images. The present situation in OT studies is one where the idea that there was a divine statue of YHWH is embraced by a number of scholars (Loretz, Niehr, Uehlinger, Berlejung). The theoretical discussions submitted by Berlejung, basing herself on Gadamer and Cassin) are found problematic, leading to an unjustified identification between god and image. In the wake of Vernant, H. instead stresses a tension between participation on one hand and distance on the other between deity and image.
Stresssing this »iconic difference« H. goes on to apply the perspective of »mental iconography«, suggested in different works by the reviewer. What we get in the iconography of ancient Israel with the empty cherubim throne in the temple and the deity enthroned in invisible majesty (since not pictorially represented) is a mental scenery, nothing less — and nothing more.
The final part of the introduction is devoted to the concept of »audience«. H. here points to the previous works by F. Nötscher and H. Gabelmann (1984), the latter discussing material from classical archaeology. In the Near Eastern material H. distinguishes between two important iconographical subgroups: scenes of presentation (»Einführungsszenen«) and scenes of adoration.
In his study of the material in the Book of Psalms, H. makes the strategic choice to start with Psalm 27, the one chosen by Loretz to demonstrate his »concrete« interpretation of »seeing God«. To Loretz, the psalm is a royal prayer with the mantic practice of haruspicy, carried out in front of the face of a divine statue. H.:s analysis, again, amounts to a fine demonstration of the situation as one of mental iconography, to be understood in metaphorical terms, not as a reference to a scene before a material statue. This investigation is carried out in two steps. In the first, H. studies vv 7–13 and demonstrates by means of parallel texts that the reference is to an audience scene. In the following step, H. concentrates on vv 1–4. His fine discussion of v 4 in the light of v 13 amounts to a dismantling of the haruspicy interpretation. H. then goes on to an illuminating discussion of audience scenes in Phoenician iconography. The main conclusion drawn is clear: The expression »seeing the face of YHWH« in Israelite material provides a case of mental iconography. YHWH evokes a mental representation of the enthroned God. The current idea of reference to a cult statue is an obvious nonsequitur.
The close reading of Ps 27 also contains a valuable discussion of »the metaphorics of the throne sphere of YHWH as the frame scenery of the concept of audience. In a first move, H. discusses the protecting sphere around the deity (notably in Ps 27:5). Formulations in the Psalms of the tent and hut of the Lord and of »the shadow of his wings« are subjected to proper discussion. Again, an exten-sive iconographical analysis of Near Eastern material for throne baldachins and throne symbolism supports the general argument. The metaphors tent and hut of YHWH are connected with (a) the theme of divine protection and rescue, and (b) the cosmic dimensions of the throne sphere. In a second move, H. focuses on Ps 27:1 with the metaphors of light and rescue. The »solarization« of YHWH is a theme in current debate. Like Janowski, H. sees no reason to assume a »Pan-Solarismus« of the deity.
After this detailed analysis of Ps 27, the author then goes on to passages with »the face of YHWH« in the rest of the Book of Psalms. He does this in a tabulary survey with ample quotations of relevant material. The book also contains a discussion of Exodus 32–34.
H.s monograph is an important contribution on several scores. First, the work helps us gain a more profound understanding of Israel’s conceptions of God. «Seeing the face of YHWH« is a royal metaphor, belonging to the official level of Israelite religion, to be distinguished from local manifestations of piety. It belongs, I would add, to the Zion-Sabaoth theology cultivated in the central temple. Secondly, and more specifically, the work is an incisive contribution to the issue of Israel’s cultic iconography (YHWH statue or not). H. wisely redresses the balance. I cannot but agree (see my article in ZAW 117, 2006, 485–508). Thirdly, H. demonstrates that the anthropomorphism in question is not an empty figure of speech. »Seeing the face of YHWH« is a phrase, deeply rooted in a conceptual frame: the mental iconography of the audience scenery. This scenery is found to have a live metaphorical content.
As a small point of criticism, I would like to suggest that the author starts using an indispensable tool: A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language by G. Del Olmo Lete and J. Sanmartín (2 vols., Leiden 2004), which adds considerably to the old Aistleitner dictionary. Ugaritic material now shows that the word yph˘ in Ps 27:12 means witness (contrast H. p. 68).
H.s doctoral dissertation on Isaiah 6 (1997) had the title Die Unzugänglichkeit Gottes im Heiligtum. In his Diss.habil., H. has given us a book of the same excellence, moreover one that makes us aware that the temple theology also was aware of »die Zugänglichkeit Gottes im Heiligtum«!