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Crouch, C. L., Stökl, Jonathan, and Anna Elise Zernecke[Eds.]
Mediating Between Heaven and Earth. Communication with the Divine in the Ancient Near East.
London u. a.: Bloomsbury T & T Clark 2012. 208 S. m. 16 Abb. = The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies. Geb. US$ 130,00. ISBN 978-0-567-46162-9.
Michael B. Hundley
This volume presents the fruit of the »Israel in the Ancient Near East« section of the European Association of Biblical Studies. It helpfully brings together under the generous rubric of ›mediation‹ the otherwise isolated phenomena of intuitive divination (prophecy), technical divination and prayers. The first five entries address divine-human communication from different angles.
A. K. de Hemmer Gudme opens with an examination of the multiple dedicatory inscriptions from the YHWH sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim (1–15). She contends that the physicality of the inscriptions serves »to remind the deity of the gift given« and »as a reminder of the worshipper himself« in order to lend »him physical presence in the sanctuary« (9). An inscription thereby »converts the occasional sacrifice or gift into a permanent relationship« (9). N. P. Heeßel turns to extispicy as a means of discerning the divine will via ob-servable answers inscribed in an animal’s entrails (16–35). He surveys the complex theories of interpretation before comparing them to actual practice, concluding that while extispicy reports share the same general hermeneutic method, they are far simpler and pragmatic in approach. Although excellent, Heeβel’s contribution does not interact with the Bible, such that biblical scholars may struggle to understand its importance. After Heeßel’s examination of accepted means of divine-communication, A. Lenzi addresses its potential problems (36–66). Lenzi suggests that Ludlul Bēl Nēmeqi was written in part to explain why technical divination does not always work and how to find resolution outside of the divinatory system without undermining it. He contends that since all divination is reliant on divine participation, ritual experts can only profitably perform their duties when the deity cooperates. In the text, the supplicant eventually finds relief from Marduk through dreams, thereby incorporating an anomaly into the system without questioning the system itself. Although plausible, it is also possible that the poets were less calculated than Lenzi suggests; as adherents of the system, they may have simply tried to make this seeming exception compatible with it. The contribution ends by comparing the poem to the biblical book of Job, which likewise atypically employs »a common revelatory medium to accommodate an exceptional situation into the accepted theological system« (64). H. Huffmon suggests that false prophecy is largely unique to the biblical tradition (67–81). Whereas ancient Near Eastern prophecies could emanate from various deities and need not always agree to be considered valid, Huffmon argues that the prophets in the deuteronomistic literature were exclusivists such that any prophecy emanating from another god was by definition false. Conflicting divine messages are also incompatible with a system in which prophecy came from a single source. J. Stökl helpfully stresses the often overlooked ethical aspects of divination in Mesopotamia and the role it plays in foreign politics, followed by a glance at the biblical prophecies of Jeremiah and Balaam (82–92).
The final four contributions turn to the human side of communication. E. S. Gerstenberger posits three different modes of communication with the divine in the Psalms: supplications of distraught petitioners, praise and thanksgiving of the community and didactic poems (93–113). M. Jacques surveys the different kinds of Mesopotamian penitential prayer texts before examining the origins of the concept of sin. While useful, a summary listing common traits and key differences of Mesopotamian prayers would have been helpful for non-specialists. A. E. Zernecke examines the relationship between two copies of the same prayer (Ištar 2) in order to address the relationship between convention and originality. She argues that the prayer grew from a short hymn of and plea to Ištar into an intricate prayer of lament and supplication with greater focus on the supplicant. While useful, the results are of somewhat limited value since we are only looking at two texts and, as Zernecke admits, it is unlikely that the earlier text is the direct antecedent of the latter. J. Dietrich concludes the volume by positing a Levantine origin for Psalm 72 with special attention to the association of jus-tice and fertility with the king. He correctly notes that strong connections should not automatically be viewed as proof of a genetic relationship.
Overall the study is very useful in bringing together different aspects of divine-human communication for a wider audience. However, it could have been more accessible to the general readership of the LHBOTS series. A conclusion would have been especially helpful to synthesize the vast material and to express it in a way that the biblical scholar could more easily digest. Nonetheless, it merits recommendation and careful attention from scholars of the Bible, ancient Near East and comparative religion.