Friday, July 7, 2023

"I Will Set His Hand on the Sea, and His Right Hand on the River" : North West Semitic Kingship and the Sea of Combat Myth : A Survey of Hebrew Poetry in Light of Ancient Near Eastern Evidence

This dissertation examines the political use of the ancient North West Semitic myth of divine combat between the Storm-God and the Sea. The myth originated with the rise of the Sargonic Empire and was disseminated across ancient Near Eastern polities during the Amorite Kingdom period. Vestiges of the myth have also been retained in the Hebrew Bible. The aim of the study was to demonstrate how the myth was used in ancient North West Semitic societies to resolve the crisis of monarchy through appeal to numinous legitimacy, and how reading a selection of Biblical texts in the framework of the tradition confirms the use of the myth in the same context in the emergent Palestinian kingdoms of the Iron Age.

As methods, the study employs form- and tradition-criticism, as well as the comparative/contrastive analysis of Ugaritic epic poetry, Akkadian diplomatic correspondence and royal inscriptions, and Hebrew poetry. A new method of textual triangulation has also been devised in an attempt to use the hypothetical convergence of traditions to approximate what of the mythology would have been known in ancient Palestine, from which few textual sources remain. Most of what is known of Israelite kingship and the monarchic institution is largely based on later and ideologically slanted material. This makes the comparison of Biblical texts to their antecedents necessary. The structure of the dissertation is three-pronged, beginning with the texts from ancient Mari, comparing them with witnesses from Ugarit, and finally contrasting them with the traditions of the broader Near East. The references to the myth in the Hebrew Bible are discussed in connection with the relevant witnesses from these traditions. The different examples of the tradition witness to the continuation, longevity, malleability, and the capacity of the myth to transform to suit changing historical realities.

The investigation concludes that a myth of symbolic combat between the Storm-God and the Sea was likely used as a foundational myth by the mostly polytheistic Pre-Exilic kingship in Palestine. In contrast to previous research, the study demonstrates three distinct sources for the Biblical traditions in addition to living local iterations of the myth. In addition to vestiges retained in the Hebrew Bible, based on the analogy of preceding, concurrent, and continuing traditions in the shared cultural sphere, the accumulation of mythic traditions suggests that it was used in the Palestinian kingdoms to resolve the crisis of monarchy and to legitimize sovereign political rule. After the end of the Jerusalem monarchy, the myth was democratized and reforged to legitimize the existence of the people.



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