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Predicting the Past in the Ancient Near East. Mantic Historiography in Ancient Mesopotamia, Judah, and the Mediterranean World.
Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature 2012. XVI, 300 S. = Brown Judaic Studies, 354. Lw. US$ 64,95. ISBN 978-1-930675-80-3.
Matthijs J. de Jong
The work by Matthew Neujahr, a revised version of the doctoral dissertation at Yale University, deals with the so-called Akkadian ex eventu texts, five texts that have been labelled as Akkadian apocalypses, and examines their relation with (post)biblical apocalypses, such as Daniel and 1 Henoch, various Qumranic texts, and the Sibylline Oracles.
In the past, scholars such as Grayson, Hallo, and Lambert, have claimed a historical connection between the Akkadian apocalypses on the one hand, and Daniel and other early Jewish apocalyptic literature on the other. The present study investigates this claim. The survey is carried out with a broad historical and literary perspective, and claims to present »a history of the use of vaticinium ex eventu as a literary technique in the mantic writings of the ancient Near East« (1). The conclusion of the study is clear. The claim of dependency cannot hold: there is no indication of literary influence of the Akkadian ex eventu texts on the Judean books such as Daniel and others. Instead, there is a similarity in the use of vaticinium ex eventu as a literary trope, which brings all the works discussed within the sphere of ›mantic historiography‹.
The first part of the study (chapter 2) discusses the five Akkadian texts, known as Prophecy Text A, Marduk Prophecy, Shulgi Prophecy, Uruk Prophecy, and Dynastic Prophecy. N. offers a transliteration and a translation of the texts, followed by textual notes and a concise discussion of each text. In the discussion, N. takes his position carefully and convincingly.
The next chapter deals with the genre problem. After a general discussion, the Akkadian ex eventu texts are placed in the context of Mesopotamian literature (such as omen literature, prophecies, etc.). Furthermore, in discussing previous attempts of defining the genre of the five texts, N. dismisses genre labels such as ›prophecies‹, ›apocalypses‹ and ›literary predictive texts‹. N. concludes that we cannot speak about a clear genre. There is only a single literary trope shared by these texts: the extensive use of vaticinium ex eventu. These texts are best labelled as Akkadian ex eventu texts. This insight helps to reformulate the issue at stake. The question is not ›are Judean apocalypses (such as Daniel and 1 Enoch) of the same genre as the Akkadian texts?‹ Instead, it is the extensive use of vaticinium ex eventu, both in the Akkadian texts and in early Judean apocalypses, that is worth investigating.
The second half of the book deals with the question what we can learn from this similarity. First, the ex eventu prediction in the apocalypses of Daniel and 1 Enoch is discussed (chapter 4). N. finds no indication that these texts are directly dependent on the Akkadian ex eventu texts. Instead, N. finds an analogy: both corpora can be described as »mantic compositions that have consciously mined historiographic material to manufacture audience trust for the oracles contained in the individual works« (150), and furthermore, both enhance their claims to authority by closely associating themselves with native mantic traditions. Whereas for the Mesopota-mian ex eventu works these authoritative, mantic traditions are the omen collections, the Judean ex eventu works relate to their own tradition: the biblical prophetic books.
The subsequent chapter, on ex eventu prediction in the Dead Sea scrolls (chapter 5) and in the Sibylline oracles (chapter 6) follow in the same direction. A variety of texts from Qumran, mostly close to the Danielic tradition, show traces of ex eventu prediction. Furthermore, the pesharim, although quite different in form, are, as N. argues, similar to ex eventu predictions from a functional point of view. The final corpus discussed are the Sibylline oracles, in part-icular book III. Again, N. sees a merging of historiographic and mantic literary traditions.
Chapter 7 concludes with a description of the texts under the heading of ›mantic historiography‹. What the texts have in common is the use of »extended historical review in the guise of prediction« (243). This places the author and his readers within a sequence of historical events which usually ends with a real prediction relating to the author’s own time and the time soon to come. N. sees »the merging of historiographic and mantic practices in the formation of a new type of mantic text« (245), whereby in each case native traditions are up to a great extent decisive for the content and shape of the individual works. Furthermore, whereas the Akkadian texts are deeply marked by the traditional Mesopotamian ideas of kingship, the Judean texts are marked by an eschatological worldview, according to which the sequence of kingdoms will make way for the kingdom of God.
The major gain of this study is that under the heading ›mantic historiography‹ we encounter not a fixed group of texts but a widespread phenomenon in Mesopotamia, Judah, Egypt and the Mediterranean world. Some of the texts in this category can be called ›apocalypses‹ (Daniel, Enoch), but most others not. They do not belong to a fixed genre, but shared similarities make for a fruitful investigation.
In some cases discussion will remain. The present writer is unconvinced by the hypothesis of two editions of the Dynastic prophecy (67–70). With N. I agree that this text reaches its climax in column III, where a king (Darius III) after defeat conquers his enemies (the Greek army of Alexander). Since this is clearly not what happened, the best solution is that this is a real prediction. The final column of the text in my view does not complicate this. There is no need for a complicated solution such as arguing for a first and second edition of the text, for there is no real indication that the reigns of any subsequent kings are predicted here (see M. J. de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, VTS 117; Leiden 2007, 431–432). The text culminates in the glorifying portrayal of a particular king (Darius III), just as in the case of the Marduk prophecy, the Uruk prophecy, and probably the Shulgi prophecy.
This culmination seems to be a major characteristic of the Mesopotamian texts involved. N. refers to it briefly in the discussion of the texts and mentions it in passing in a later chapter (148), but it remains very much in the margins of his study. It plays no role in the general discussion of the ideology of the texts, not even in the section on kingship (71–73).
N. claims that the five Akkadian works he discusses, because of their use of vaticinia ex eventu, are »fundamentally unlike any other known works of Akkadian literature« (245). At least the Epic of Erra (not mentioned in this study) may be pointed at as a counterexample. This epic presents specific historical circumstances in a mythological guise and makes use of vaticinia ex eventu, most clearly so in 4:131–136 and 5:23–38. Furthermore, this text too culminates in the prediction of the glorious reign of an ideal king. This phenomenon requires further investigation. – One further point: In his discus-sion of the third book of the Sibylline oracles N. closely follows the view of John Collins. This is fine, of course, but it does not justify the sometimes, in my view, too easy dismissal of the work of others.
On the whole, this study can be valued positively. With his thorough and thoughtful discussion of the texts N. has given an important contribution to the scholarly discussion in the field. The study is balanced, well structured and contains almost no inac-curacies. Bibliography and indices are included.