Introductory Matters Concerning the Old Testament
Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Advocacy, Dispute, 1997.
Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol I, 1957.
Walter Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 1933, 1961.
James B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East, vol. I, II, 1958.
Anchor Bible Commentaries.
For histories, Encyclopedia Britannica.
canonical text of the Old Testament and the dialogue contained within it is
where we need to begin in our reflections. However, the text refers to events
in history. In order for the Old Testament to demonstrate genuine power, the
action of God in the world to which the text refers needs to continually renew
itself and speak to future communities of believers. Those believers may be
Jewish or Christian. Therefore, although narrative approaches to the text are
helpful, we cannot set aside discussion of whether something like its core
events occurred in history. For example, the story of Abraham is one that tells
us much about the worshipping community of Hebrews and Jews. Yet, if something
like that journey did not occur in history, it would be quite devastating to
the faith about which we read. The same is true of the basic story of
Hebrew monotheism led to a conviction of the unity of the human race and of the concern God has for humanity. It led to shifting from the acts of God in nature to the acts of God in history. This further led to strong ethical and moral concerns.
Central to the value system of the Hebrews was the notion of holiness or separation. They considered God beyond human beings and the things of the world. God is mysterious, incomprehensible, majestic, and exalted. As the people of God, they participated in divine holiness and obligated themselves to remain in a state of holiness or separation from the world. Holiness embraced moral dimensions. Anything outside of its proper place in the world was unclean, and made anyone who came into contact unclean. One became unclean if one touched an unclean object at the wrong time. Everything had its order, and sacred rites stated that order. The hereditary priesthood presided over a system of animal and vegetable sacrifices. The sacrifice established relationship with the divine. It brought before the source of their being all the hope, fear, and guilt that life entails. It kept order. It kept pollution in check. It insured holiness. The sense of wholeness explains why deformity and defect were considered unclean.
The dialogue within the text is between dominant themes and underlying questions concerning those themes. The dominant theme is like testimony given in a courtroom. This testimony, as well as underlying questions concerning that testimony, reflects vested interests and advocacy for those interests.
can summarize the core testimony of
· Yahweh, the God who creates
· Yahweh, the God who makes promises
· Yahweh, the God who delivers or redeems
· Yahaweh, the God who commands
· Yahweh, the God who leads
can also summarize the core testimony of
can also summarize the core testimony of
This core testimony has a certain disjunction in Yahweh between mercy and moral fierceness. Yahweh is generous and compassionate, and has a potential for extraordinary destructiveness. We do not know if the judge will sentence or forgive, the warrior will fight for or against, the king will banish or invite to the table, the gardener will cultivate or pluck up, the shepherd will lead and feed or judge between sheep, the doctor will heal or pronounce terminally ill. Life with God seems to mean anxiety concerning how God will act in this instance. Yahweh is sovereign (glory of Yahweh, holiness of Yahweh, jealousy of Yahweh) and faithful (resilient relatedness in covenant and pathos or passion), full of self-regard and passionately committed to life with the partner.
Old Testament text questions the core testimony of
I now want to share some of the general theories of compilation of the Pentateuch and the history contained in Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and Kings. As I have already suggested, the revelation of God has come to us through a human process.
At one time, we viewed the first five books of the bible as written by Moses. Today, most students recognize that a variety of traditions produced the Pentateuch.
J authors concluded most of their work around 950 BC. It has an incisive style, economy of
presentation and boldness. It has an
insight into human nature, and recognition that a higher order and purpose
behind incomprehensible human events.
There is simplicity to this tradition that unites it with the wisdom
tradition. The inner life is what
attracts this tradition. Individuals
have considerable freedom. Their
activity centered in the area around
E authors concluded their work around 800 BC.
Their work centered in the northern kingdom or
set of authors in
The P authors began their work in the 900’s BC, but did not complete it until the exilic period of the mid-500's BC. They concern themselves mostly with the priestly line of descendants and with traditions surrounding the temple and its worship and care. Ezra and other scribes compiled all of the traditions in the exile and probably completed the process in 400 BC. They used these traditions to establish the post-exilic community, since the prophetic word was in the process of dying out. There came to be reliance upon the written word. Here are stories about the beginning of the universe, about the spiritual progress of the ancestors of the faith, stories about liberation, and the origin of the law that God gave to help order the community.
The Deuteronomic (D) authors produced their work in the south before the Fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. It comprises most of Deuteronomy, and is a reading of the Law through the influence of the prophets. It desires to regulate all of the life of the nation as the holy people of God. It is concerned with the weaker members of society, with the prophetic influence evident in the view of God and religion as love for God and doing God's will, the polemic against Baal, and the stress upon ethics. Though the prophetic and priestly traditions were often at war with one another, this work attempts to bring them together. It continues through Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings.
The variety of traditions discovered
in the Old Testament does suggest a broad based concept of unity. There is no reason for believing that the
various schools that created these traditions did not have tensions between
them. For example, J and E have clear
differences, as does "P." Yet, they were brought together in the
Exilic period because it was recognized they had a common witness to what God
was doing in their community. We can say
the same for the Deuteronomic history, also brought together in the exilic
period. It was itself an attempt to
combine stories from the tribal federation and court records with prophetic
legend and prophetic interpretation of events that often ran counter to the
historical records available. The later
history of the chronicler gave another view to the history of the nation more
in line with the emerging consensus of the post-exilic community. The prophetic writings, often standing in
judgment of what was happening officially at the court and in religious
circles, provide a contrary opinion to the court records and to wisdom
tradition, the latter being a product of the ruling classes. Apocalyptic, with its emphasis on the
critical battle between good and evil, that God is moving history toward a soon
arrival of the end, runs counter to much of the old Testament teaching about
creation and the political and religious world.
The worshipping community, with its emphasis upon the experience of God
in the community, at a variety of points finds expression in these materials as
well. These materials, in spite of their
variety, were brought together because they share a common witness to God's
The bible maintains a spiritual power to cleanse, renew, and empower individuals and communities. We can account for this power through its over-arching themes. It has several paradigms that have moved people toward transformation. I want to mention three such stories.
One is the story of the exodus of
the Hebrew people from
Two is the
story of exile and return. The exile of
the Jewish people began in 587, when
Three is the story of temple, priest, and sacrifice. Instead of an historical event, we now focus on an institution. It begins with notions of sin, guilt, sacrifice, and sacrifice. It begins with the concept of the universal stain on humanity. Therefore, images of cleansing, washing, and covering over are important. People are sinners who have broken the laws of God. They stand before God as guilty sinners. The religious life is one of sin, guilt, and forgiveness. God loves us as we are. We are precious in the sight of God. God accepts us, just as we are. In the New Testament, the death of Jesus is the sacrifice for the sins of humanity. The death of Jesus makes the forgiveness of God possible.
Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol I, 1957.
Walter Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, vol I, “The Name of the Covenant God,” 1933, 1961.
The following history is largely taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica. I have tried to keep it to those portions of this history related to developments in the early portions of the bible. In particular, the bible recalls the origin of the Patriarchs from the Mesopotamian area. This history provides some background on people mentioned in the bible.
Questions as to what ancient Mesopotamian civilization did and did not accomplish, how it influenced its neighbors and successors, and what its legacy has transmitted are posed from the standpoint of 20th-century civilization and are in part coloured by ethical overtones, so that the answers can only be relative. Modern scholars assume the ability to assess the sum total of an “ancient Mesopotamian civilization”; but, since the publication of an article by the Assyriologist Benno Landsberger on “Die Eigenbegrifflichkeit der babylonischen Welt” (1926; “The Distinctive Conceptuality of the Babylonian World”), it has become almost a commonplace to call attention to the necessity of viewing ancient Mesopotamia and its civilization as an independent entity.
The Sumerian people began writing about 3000-2750 BC, with the archaic civilization of Uruk. In Uruk and probably also in other cities of comparable size, the Sumerians led a city life. That life consisted in temples and residential districts; intensive agriculture, stock breeding, fishing, and date palm cultivation forming the four mainstays of the economy; and highly specialized industries carried on by sculptors, seal engravers, smiths, carpenters, shipbuilders, potters, and workers of reeds and textiles. Part of the population was supported with rations from a central point of distribution, which relieved people of the necessity of providing their basic food themselves, in return for their work all day and every day, at least for most of the year. The cities kept up active trade with foreign lands.
That organized city life existed is
demonstrated chiefly by the existence of inscribed tablets. The earliest
tablets contain figures with the items they enumerate and measures with the
items they measure, as well as personal names and, occasionally, probably
professions. This shows the purely practical origins of writing in
One of the most important questions
that has to be met when dealing with “organization” and “city life” is that of
social structure and the form of government; however, it can be answered only
with difficulty, and the use of evidence from later periods carries with it the
danger of anachronisms. The Sumerian word for ruler par excellence is lugal, which etymologically means “big person.” The
first occurrence comes from
It has often been asked if the ruler
of Uruk is to be recognized in artistic representations. A man feeding sheep
with flowering branches, a prominent personality in seal designs, might thus
represent the ruler or a priest in his capacity as administrator and protector
of flocks. The same question may be posed in the case of a man who is depicted
on a stela aiming an arrow at a lion. These questions are purely speculative,
however: even if the “protector of flocks” were identical with the en,
there is no ground for seeing in the ruler a person with a predominantly
The picture offered by the literary tradition of
king list gives as coming in succession several dynasties that now are known to
have ruled simultaneously. It is a welcome aid to chronology and history, but,
so far as the regnal years are concerned, it loses its value for the time
before the dynasty of
It is also instructive to observe
what the Sumerian king list does not mention. The list lacks all mention of a
dynasty as important as the 1st dynasty of
Besides the peaceful pursuits
reflected in art and writing, the art also provides the first information about
violent contacts: cylinder seals of the Uruk Level IV
depict fettered men lying or squatting on the ground, being beaten with sticks
or otherwise maltreated by standing figures. They may represent the execution
of prisoners of war. It is not known from where these captives came or what
form “war” would have taken or how early organized battles were fought.
Nevertheless, this does give the first, albeit indirect, evidence for the wars
that are henceforth one of the most characteristic phenomena in the history of
Just as with the rule of man over
man, with the rule of higher powers over man it is difficult to make any
statements about the earliest attested forms of religion
or about the deities and their names without running the risk of anachronism.
Excluding prehistoric figurines, which provide no evidence for determining
whether men or anthropomorphic gods are represented, the earliest testimony is
supplied by certain symbols that later became the cuneiform signs for gods'
names: the “gatepost with streamers” for Inanna,
goddess of love and war, and the “ringed post” for the moon god Nanna. A scene on a cylinder seal—a shrine with an Inanna
symbol and a “man” in a boat—could be an abbreviated illustration of a
procession of gods or of a cultic journey by ship. The constant association of
the “gatepost with streamers” with sheep and of the “ringed post” with cattle
may possibly reflect the area of responsibility of each deity. The Sumerologist
Thorkild Jacobsen sees in the pantheon a reflex of the various economies and
modes of life in ancient
Over the last 4,000 years, Semites (Amorites, Canaanites, Aramaeans, and Arabs) have been partly nomadic, ranging the Arabian fringes of the Fertile Crescent, and partly settled; and the transition to settled life can be observed in a constant, though uneven, rhythm. There are, therefore, good grounds for assuming that the Akkadians (and other pre-Akkadian Semitic tribes not known by name) also originally led a nomadic life to a greater or lesser degree. Nevertheless, they can only have been herders of domesticated sheep and goats, which require changes of pasturage according to the time of year and can never stray more than a day's march from the watering places. The traditional nomadic life of the Bedouin makes its appearance only with the domestication of the camel at the turn of the 2nd to 1st millennium BC.
Not until about 2700 BC does the first historical personality appear—historical because his name, Enmebaragesi (Me-baragesi), was preserved in later tradition. It has been assumed, although the exact circumstances cannot be reconstructed, that there was a rather abrupt end to the high culture of Uruk Level IV.
In the quarter or third of a millennium between Uruk Level IV and Enmebaragesi, southern Mesopotamia became studded with a complex pattern of cities, many of which were the centres of small independent city-states, to judge from the situation in about the middle of the millennium. In these cities, the central point was the temple, sometimes encircled by an oval boundary wall (hence the term temple oval); but nonreligious buildings, such as palaces serving as the residences of the rulers, could also function as centres.
Enmebaragesi, king of
Although the corpus of inscriptions
grows richer both in geographic distribution and in point of chronology in the
27th and increasingly so in the 26th century, it is still impossible to find
the key to a plausible historical account, and history cannot be written solely
on the basis of archaeological findings. Unless clarified by written documents,
such findings contain as many riddles as they seem to offer solutions. This
applies even to as spectacular a discovery as that of the royal tombs of
More difficult than describing its
external relations is the task of shedding light on the internal structure of a
For many years, scholarly views were
conditioned by the concept of the Sumerian
The conclusion from this analogy
proved to be dangerous because the archives of the
It is probable, if unfortunate, that there will never exist a detailed and numerically accurate picture of the demographic structure of a Sumerian city. It is assumed that in the oldest cities the government was in a position to summon sections of the populace for the performance of public works. The construction of monumental buildings or the excavation of long and deep canals could be carried out only by means of such a levy. The large-scale employment of indentured persons and of slaves is of no concern in this context. Evidence of male slavery is fairly rare before Ur III, and even in Ur III and in the Old Babylonian period slave labour was never an economically relevant factor. It was different with female slaves. According to one document, the temple of Baba employed 188 such women; the temple of the goddess Nanshe employed 180, chiefly in grinding flour and in the textile industry, and this continued to be the case in later times. For accuracy's sake it should be added that the terms male slave and female slave are used here in the significance they possessed about 2000 and later, designating persons in bondage who were bought and sold and who could not acquire personal property through their labour. A distinction is made between captured slaves (prisoners of war and kidnapped persons) and others who had been sold.
In one inscription, Entemena of
Lagash boasts of having “allowed the sons of Uruk, Larsa, and Bad-tibira to
return to their mothers” and of having “restored them into the hands” of the
respective city god or goddess. Read in the light of similar but more explicit
statements of later date, this laconic formula represents the oldest known
evidence of the fact that the ruler occasionally endeavoured to mitigate social
injustices by means of a decree. Such decrees might refer to the suspension or
complete cancellation of debts or to exemption from public works. Whereas a set of inscriptions of the
last ruler from the 1st dynasty of
If the foregoing passage about restoring the ensi's fields to the divinity is interpreted carefully, it would follow that the situation of the temple was ameliorated and that palace lands were assigned to the priests. Along with these measures, which resemble the policies of a newcomer forced to lean on a specific party, are found others that do merit the designation of “measures taken toward the alleviation of social injustices”—for instance, the granting of delays in the payment of debts or their outright cancellation and the setting up of prohibitions to keep the economically or socially more powerful from forcing his inferior to sell his house, his ass's foal, and the like. Besides this, there were tariff regulations, such as newly established fees for weddings and burials, as well as the precise regulation of the food rations of garden workers.
conditions, described on the basis of source materials from Girsu, may well
have been paralleled elsewhere, but it is equally possible that other archives,
yet to be found in other cities of pre-Sargonic southern
The deities of the earlier Sumerians tended to be localized, centering around the subsistence of the community. A primary concern in this and later periods was the fertility of the fields, waters, and flocks. During this period, the external manifestation of the deity took the form of the phenomenon that the deity represented. For example, the deity associated with the rain cloud was pictured as a dark, lion-headed bird hovering in the sky.
The Assyrian and Babylonian gods did
not displace those of the Sumerians but were gradually assimilated into the
older system. The gods were seen to be active in the history of the area and
within the changing relationships of the various city-states in the
National religion was organized
around the care and feeding of the deity in his temple. In addition to its
function as a religious centre, the temple also functioned as a food
redistribution centre under royal control. While many of these temples may have
been modest, some, such as the
Surrounding the deity in his temple were a number of officials connected with the cult. The first among these was the king himself, who functioned as the chief priest of the nation's deity. The king's role was particularly important at the new year festival held in the spring of the year in which the kingship was renewed and the triumph of the deity over the powers of chaos was celebrated. In these rituals it appears that the role of the deity was played by the king. Among the rituals was the “sacred marriage” which ensured fertility for the following year. Over 30 types of other cultic personnel are mentioned, including priests, priestesses, and personnel in charge of incantations and divination. An elaborate system of determining the will of the gods through the observation of omens was developed, a major element of which was haruspicy, the reading of the entrails of sacrificial animals.
Although the number of deities
represented in the Mesopotamian pantheon numbered in the hundreds, a relatively
small number of deities played a prominent role in the texts. Especially
important among the older gods were Anu, the god of heaven, who was the oldest
of the gods; Enki, later identified with the Akkadian god Ea, who was the god
associated with water; and Enlil, the earth god who apparently presided over
the divine assembly. As was common in the ancient
In addition to these old,
well-established deities, the pantheon also contained newer deities. As the
political fortunes of a city increased, so did the stature of the associated
deity. Marduk, the deity of
A number of lesser deities were
active in the Mesopotamian pantheon. Most prominent among the astral deities
were Shamash, the sun deity worshipped in Larsa and
Due to the religious sanction of law, legal records were often stockpiled in temple archives. These latter are also the source of more directly cultic texts, such as descriptions of rituals, which come under such headings as “Temple Program for the New Year's Festivals at Babylon,” “Ritual to be Followed by the Kalu (priest) when Covering the Temple Kettle-Drum,” “Ritual for the Repair of a Temple,” and “Program of the Pageant of the Statue of the God Anu at Uruk.” Prayers, lamentations, and hymns in both Sumerian and Akkadian are extant, addressed to deities such as the goddess Ishtar, the moon god Sin, the sun god Shamash, the great triad Anu, Enlil, and Ea, and the Babylonian patron god Marduk. The Sumerian “Lament for the Destruction of Ur” bemoans the city's fall to Elamites and Subarians. Often the king himself is the spokesman in the text. Wisdom literature, such as proverbs and fables (e.g., “Dispute between the Date Palm and the Tamarisk”), poetic meditations, oracles, divination records, omens, and prophecies are further examples of Mesopotamian genres that only epigraphy has preserved.
Sumerian and Akkadian narrative literature
is likewise of wholly inscriptional transmission. It contains man's earliest
preserved literary creations in the Sumerian sequence, especially the texts
from tablets found at
(Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian) attitudes to death differed widely from those of
the Egyptians. They were grim and stark: sickness and death were the wages of
sin. Although the dead were buried in
According to Mesopotamian mythology, the gods had made humans of clay, but to the clay had been added the flesh and blood of a god specially slaughtered for the occasion. God was, therefore, present in all people. The sole purpose of humanity's creation was to serve the gods, to carry the yoke and labor for them. Offended gods withdrew their support, thereby opening the door to demons, whose activities the malevolent could invoke.
The main strands of Sumero-Akkadian thought held no prospect of an afterlife, at any rate of a kind that anyone might look forward to. In the Gilgamesh epic, the aging folk hero, haunted by the prospect of his own death, sets off to visit Utnapishtim, who, with his wife, was the only mortal to have achieved immortality. He meets Siduri, the wine maiden, who exhorts him to make the most of the present for “the life which thou seekest thou wilt not find.” There was no judgment after death, a common fate awaiting the good and the bad alike. Death was conceived of in terms of appalling grimness, unrelieved by any hope of salvation through human effort or divine compassion. The dead were, in fact, among the most dreaded beings in early Mesopotamian demonology. In a myth called “The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld,” the fertility goddess decides to visit kur-nu-gi-a (“the land of no return”), where the dead “live in darkness, eat clay, and are clothed like birds with wings.” She threatens the doorkeeper: “If thou openest not that I may enter I will smash the doorpost and unhinge the gate. I will lead up the dead, that they may eat the living.” Given this background, it is not surprising that offerings to the dead were made in a spirit of fear; if not propitiated they would return and cause all kinds of damage.
The Babylonians did not dissect bodies, and their approach to disease and death was spiritual rather than anatomical or physiological. They did not speculate about the functions of organs but considered them the seat of emotions and mental faculties in general. The heart was believed to be the seat of the intellect, the liver of affectivity, the stomach of cunning, the uterus of compassion, and the ears and the eyes of attention. Breathing and life were thought of in the same terms. The Akkadian word napistu was used indifferently to mean “the throat,” “to breathe,” and “life” itself.
One text from this period, titled Man and his God, has a theme similar to that of Job.
Let his lament soothe the heart of his god
(For) a man without a god would not obtain food.
The author goes on to say:
My righteous word has been turned into a lie…
You have doled out to me suffering ever anew,
I entered the house, heavy is the spirit,
I, the young man, went out to the street oppressed the heart,
With me, the valiant, my righteous shepherd has become angry, has looked upon me inimically,
My herdsman has sought out evil forces against me who am not (his) enemy.
As with Job, the author suggests that his friends are not helpful in his time of suffering:
My companion says not a true word to me,
My friend gives the lie to my righteous word.
He laments his situation:
Food is all about, (yet) my food is hunger,
On the day shares were allotted to all, my allotted share was suffering.
Lo, let not my mother who bore me cease my lament before you,
Let not my sister [utter] the happy song and chant,
Let her utter tearfully my misfortunes before you,
Let my wife voice mournfully my suffering,
Let the expert singer bemoan my bitter fate.
tears, lament, anguish, and depression are lodged within me,
suffering overwhelm me like one who does (nothing but) weep,
He wonders how long this can go on:
How long will you neglect me, leave me unprotected?
How long will you leave me unguided?
He demonstrates repentance at the end of his lament, which brings acceptance by his god.
My god, now that you have shown me my sins …
The man – his bitter weeping was heard by his god,
When the lamentation and wailing that filled him had soothed the heart of his god for the young man,
The righteous words, the artless words uttered by him, his god accepted,
The words which the young man prayerfully confessed,
Pleased the …, the flesh of his god, and his god withdrew his had from the evil word…
The encompassing sickness-demon, which had spread wide its wings, he swept away,
The …, which had smitten him like a …, he dissipated,
The demon of fate, who had been placed there in accordance with his sentence, he turned aside…
This Sumerian period also has several love poems that remind the read of the Song of Songs in the bible. One text is Dumuzi and Inanna.
I will bring there my sweetheart,
I will bring there Amaushumgalanna,
He will put his hand by my hand,
He will put his heart by my heart,
His putting of hand to hand – its sleep is so refreshing,
His pressing of heart to heart – its pleasure is so sweet.
Another texts expresses this love in the following way.
Last night, as I, the queen, was shining bringt,
Last night, as I, the queen of heaven, was shining bright,
As I was shining bright, as I was dancing about,
As I was uttering a song at the brightening of the oncoming night,
He met me, he met me,
The Lord Kuli-Anna met me,
The lord put his hand into my hand,
Ushumgalanna embraced me.
“Come now, wild bull, set me free, I must go home,
Kuli-Enlil, set me free, I must go home.
“Let me inform you, let me inform you.
Inanna, most deceitful of women, let me inform you:
My girl friend took me with her to the public square,
She entertained me there with music and dancing,
Her chant, the sweet, she sang for me.
In sweet rejoicing I whiled away the time there –
Thus deceitfully stand up to your mother,
While we by the moonlight indulge our passion,
I will prepare for you a bed pure, sweet, and noble,
Will while away the sweet time with you in joyful fulfillment.
Another love song goes like this.
The sun has gone to sleep, the day has passed,
As in bed you gaze lovingly upon him,
As you caress the lord,
Give life unto the lord,
Give the staff and crook unto the lord.
She craves it, she craves it, she craves the bed,
She craves the bed of the rejoicing heart, she craves the bed,
She craves the bed of the sweet lap, she craves the bed,
She craves the bed of queenship, she craves the bed.
By his sweet, by his sweet, by his sweet bed,
By his sweet bed of the rejoicing heart, by his sweet bed.
The beloved speaks on his sweet bed,
Speaks to him words of life, words of long days.
Ninshubur, the trustworthy vizier of the Eanna,
Took him by his right forearm,
Brought him blissfully to the lap of Inanna:
“May the lord whom you have called to your heart,
the king, your beloved husband, enjoy long days at your holy lap, the sweet,
give him a reign favorable and glorious,
give him the throne of kingship on its enduring foundation,
give him the people-directing scepter, the staff and the crook,
give him an enduring crown, a diadem which ennobles the head.
Another poem is Set Me Free, My Sister.
As … the beloved of my eye,
My beloved met me,
Took his pleasure of me, rejoiced together with me.
The brother brought me to his house
Made me lie on its … honey bed,
My precious sweet, having lain by my heart,
In unison, the tongue-making in unison,
My brother of fairest face, made 50 times.
My precious sweet is sated with me.
This, then, is the horizon of
According to the Sumerian king list, the first five rulers of
As stated in an annotation to his
name in the king list, Sargon started out as a cupbearer to King Ur-Zababa of
Impressive as they are at first
sight, these reports have only a limited value because they cannot be arranged
chronologically, and it is not known whether Sargon built a large empire.
Akkadian tradition itself saw it in this light, however, and a learned treatise
of the late 8th or the 7th century lists no fewer than 65 cities and lands
belonging to that empire. Yet, even if Magan and Kapturu (
Sargon appointed one of his
daughters priestess of the moon god in
Sargon died at a very old age. The
inscriptions, also preserved only in copies, of his son Rimush
are full of reports about battles fought in
Since the reports (i.e.,
copies of inscriptions) left by Manishtusu, Naram-Sin, and Shar-kali-sharri
speak repeatedly of rebellions and victorious battles and since Rimush,
Manishtusu, and Shar-kali-sharri are themselves said to have died violent
deaths, the problem of what remained of
On the other hand, the original inscriptions that have been found so far of a king like Naram-Sin are scattered at sites covering a distance of some 620 miles as the crow flies, following the Tigris downriver: Diyarbakir on the upper Tigris, Nineveh, Tall Birak (Tell Brak) on the upper Khabur River (which had an Akkadian fortress and garrison), Susa in Elam, as well as Marad, Puzrish-Dagan, Adab (Bismayah), Nippur, Ur, and Girsu in Babylonia. Even if all this was not part of an empire, it surely constituted an impressive sphere of influence.
Also to be considered are other
facts that weigh more heavily than high-sounding reports of victories that
cannot be verified. After the first kings of the dynasty had borne the title of
Thus the reign of the five kings of
Of the kings after Shar-kali-sharri (c. 2217–c. 2193), only the names and a few brief inscriptions have survived. Quarrels arose over the succession, and the dynasty went under, although modern scholars know as little about the individual stages of this decline as about the rise of
The Gutians' influence probably did
not extend beyond Umma. The neighbouring state of
Utu-hegal of Uruk is given credit for having overthrown Gutian rule by vanquishing their king Tiriqan along with two generals. Utu-hegal calls himself lord of the four quarters of the earth in an inscription, but this title, adopted from
Assyriologists have given the name of Code of Ur-Nammu to a literary monument that is the oldest known example of a genre extending through the Code of Lipit-Ishtar in Sumerian to the Code of Hammurabi, written in Akkadian. (Some scholars have attributed it to Ur-Nammu's son Shulgi.) It is a collection of sentences or verdicts mostly following the pattern of “If A [assumption], it follows that B [legal consequence].” The collection is framed by a prologue and an epilogue. The original was most likely a stela, but all that is known of the Code of Ur-Nammu so far are Old Babylonian copies. The term code as used here is conventional terminology and should not give the impression of any kind of “codified” law; furthermore, the content of the Code of Ur-Nammu is not yet completely known. It deals, among other things, with adultery by a married woman, the defloration of someone else's female slave, divorce, false accusation, the escape of slaves, bodily injury, and the granting of security, as well as with legal cases arising from agriculture and irrigation.
Before its catastrophic end under
Ibbi-Sin, the state of Ur III does not seem to have suffered setbacks and
rebellions as grievous as those experienced by
Shulgi, too, called himself king of
the four quarters of the earth. Although he resided in
The highest official of the state was the sukkal-mah, literally “supreme courier,” whose position may be described as “(state) chancellor.” The empire was divided into some 40 provinces ruled by as many ensis, who, despite their far-reaching authority (civil administration and judicial powers), were no longer autonomous, even if only indirectly, although the office was occasionally handed down from father to son. They could not enter into alliances or wage wars on their own. The ensis were appointed by the king and could probably also be transferred by him to other provinces. Each of these provinces was obliged to pay a yearly tribute, the amount of which was negotiated by emissaries. Of special significance in this was a system called bala, “cycle” or “rotation,” in which the ensis of the southern provinces took part; among other things, they had to keep the state stockyards supplied with sacrificial animals. Although the “province” often corresponded to a former city-state, many others were no doubt newly established. The so-called land-register text of Ur-Nammu describes four such provinces north of
The available histories are
practically unanimous in seeing in Ur III a strongly centralized state marked
by the king's position as absolute ruler. Nevertheless, some caution is
indicated. For one thing, the need to deal as carefully as possible with the ensis
must not be underestimated. A further question arises from the borders between
and relative extent of the “public” and the “private” sector; the latter's
importance may have been underrated as well. What is meant by “private” sector
is a population group with land of its own and with revenues not directly
granted by a temple or a “palace,” such as by the king's or an ensi's
household. The traditional picture is derived from the sources, the state
archives of Puzrish-Dagan, a gigantic “stockyard”
situated outside the gates of
From the ethnic point of view,
It is likely that the geographic
horizon of the empire of Ur III did not materially exceed that of the empire of
Intellectual life at the time of Ur III must have been very active in the cultivation and transmission of older literature, as well as in new creations. Although its importance as a spoken tongue was slowly diminishing, Sumerian still flourished as a written language, a state of affairs that continued into the Old Babylonian period. As shown by the hymn to the deified king, new literary genres arose in Ur III. If Old Babylonian copies are any indication, the king's correspondence with leading officials was also of a high literary level.
In the long view, the 3rd dynasty of
The decline of Ur III is an event in Mesopotamian history that can be followed in greater detail than other stages of that history thanks to sources such as the royal correspondence, two elegies on the destruction of Ur and Sumer, and an archive from Isin that shows how Ishbi-Erra, as usurper and king of Isin, eliminated his former overlord in Ur. Ibbi-Sin was waging war in
While Ishbi-Erra purposefully
strengthened his domains, Ibbi-Sin continued for 14 more years to rule over a
decreasing portion of the land. The end of
The Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh
is divided into 12 tablets, the longest of which is more than 300 lines; this
“Flood Tablet” (the 11th) is virtually intact and comes, like almost all
Assyrian-language Gilgamesh texts, from the library of Ashurbanipal at
The other famous Mesopotamian epic, Enuma elish, “When on high,” details the story of
cosmic creation and of how Marduk became the great god of
Further Akkadian literary creation is attested in the epic of Atrahasis, a tale of mankind's punishment through pestilence and flood, preserved in fragmentary Old Babylonian and Assyrian versions. The story of Adapa, found in parts in the Tell el-Amarna archives and the library of Ashurbanipal, is similar to Gilgamesh's quest for immortality. The myth of Zu deals with the theft of the tables of fate and the usurpation of almightiness by the bird god Zu. The legend of Etana, a namesake of the shepherd-king who ascended to heaven in the mythical postdiluvian Sumerian dynasty of Kish, recounts in its Old Babylonian and Assyrian recensions the heavenly flight of Etana on the wings of an eagle in order to acquire the magic birth plant that would cure his childlessness. Death-oriented themes appear in the tale of Ishtar's descent, in the story of Nergal and Ereshkigal, and in various netherworld texts associated with the Tammuz myth and liturgy.
The Epic of Gilgamesh shows the climactic struggle of the protagonist to change his eventual fate, by learning the secret of immortality from the hero of the Great Flood of long ago, ends in failure. However, with the failure comes a sense of quiet resignation. It antedates the first millennium BC. It may date from middle of the second millennium. However, the Akkadian version is around 2000 BC.
Tablet I, ii
Two-thirds of him is god, one-third of him is human.
Gilgamesh opened his mouth,
Saying to Enkidu:
“Who, my friend can scale heaven?
Only the gods live forever under the sun.
As for humankind, numbered are their days;
Whatever they achieve is but the wind!
Even here thou art afraid of death.
What of they heroic might?
Let me go then before thee,
Let thy mouth call to me, ‘Advance, fear not!’
Should I fall, I shall have made me a name:
‘Gilgamesh’ – they will say – against fierce Huwawa
has fallen!’ Long after
my offspring has been born in my house.”
When Gilgamesh had put on his tiara,
Glorious Ishtar raised an eye at the beauty of Gilgamesh:
“Come, Gilgamesh, be thou my lover!
Do but grant me of they fruit.
Thou shalt be my husband and I will be thy wife.
I will harness for thee a chariot of lapis and gold,
Whose wheels are gold and whose horns are brass.
When Ishtar heard this,
Ishtar was enraged and mounted to heaven.
Forth went Ishtar before Anu, her father,
To Antum, her mother, she went and said:
“My father, Gilgamesh has heaped insults upon me!
Gilgamesh has recounted my stinking deeds,
My stench and my foulness.”
Tablet X, iii, is a text similar to Eclesiastes.
“Gilgamesh, whither rovest thou?
The life thou pursuest thou shalt not find.
When the gods created humankind,
Death for humankind they set aside,
Life in their own hands retaining.
Thou, Gilgamesh, let full be thy belly,
Make thou merry by day and by night.
Of each day make thou a feast of rejoicing,
Day and night dance thou and play!
Let thy garments be sparkling fresh,
Thy head be washed; bathe thou in water.
Pay heed to the little one that holds on to thy hand,
Let thy spouse delight in the bosom!
For this is the task of humankind!
Tablet X, vi, is a text with similarities to Ecclesiastes.
“Do we build a house forever?
Do we seal contracts forever?
Do brothers divide shares forever?
Does hatred persist forever in the land?
Does the river forever raise up and bring on floods?
The dragon-fly leaves its shell
That its face might but glance at the face of the sun.
Since the days of yore there has been no permanence;
The resting and the dead, how alike they are!
Do they not compose a picture of death,
The commoner and the noble,
Once they are near to their fate?
The Anunnaki, the great gods, foregather;
Mammetum, maker of fate, with them the fate decrees:
Death and life they determine.
But of death, its days are not revealed.”
XI is a text similar to the building of the
Utnapishtim said to him, to Gilgamesh:
“I will reveal to thee, Gilgamesh, a hidden matter
and a secret of the gods will I tell thee:
That city was ancient, as were the gods within it,
When their heart led the great gods to produce the flood.
man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-Tuto,
tear down this house, build a ship!
Give up possessions, seek thou life.
Forswear worldly goods and keep the soul alive!
Aboard the ship take thou the seed of all living things>
The ship that thou shalt build,
Her dimensions shall be to measure.
Equal shall be her width and her length.
Like the Apsu thou shalt ceil her.
I understood, and I said to Ea, my lord:
‘Behold, my lord, what thou hast thus ordered,
I will be honored to carry out.
But what shall I answer the city, the people and elders?’
Ea opened his mouth to speak,
Saying to me, his servant:
‘Thou shalt then thus speak unto them:
I have learned that Enlil is hostile to me,
So that I cannot reside in your city,
Nor set my foot in Enlil’s territory.
To the Deep I will therefore go down,
To dwell with my lord Ea.
But upon you he will shower down abundance,
The choicest birds, the rarest fishes.
The land shall have its fill of harvest riches.
He who at dusk orders the husk-greens,
Will shower down upon you a rain of wheat.
Whatever I had I laded upon her:
Whatever I had of silver I laded upon her;
Whatever I had of gold I laded uponher;
Whatever I had of all the living beings I laded upon her.
All my family and kin I made go aboard the ship.
The beasts of the field, the wild creatures of the field,
All the craftsmen I made go aboard.
Shamash had set for me a stated time:
When he who orders unease at night,
Boardthou the ship and batten up the entrance!
That stated time had arrived:
‘He who orders unease at night, showers down a rain of blight.’
I watched the appearance of the weather.
The weather was awesome to behold.
I boarded the ship and battened up the entrance.
The sea grew quiet, the tempest was still, the flood ceased.
I looked at the weather: stillness had set in,
And all of humankind had returned to clay.
The landscape was as level as a flat roof.
I opened a hatch, and light fell upon my face.
Bowing low, I sat and wept,
Tears running down on my face.
I looked about for coast lines in the expanse of the sea:
In each of fourteen regions
There emerged a region mountain.
Then I sent forth and set free a raven.
The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished,
He eats, circles, caws, and turns not round.
Ea opened his mouth to speak,
Saying to valiant Enlil:
Thou wisest of gods, thou hero,
How couldst thou, unreasoning, bring on the deluge?
On the sinner impose his sin,
On the transgressor impose his transgression!
Yet be lenient, lest he be cut off,
Be patient, lest he be dislodged!
Instead of thy bringing on the deluge,
Would that a lion had risen up to diminish humankind!
Instead of thy bringing on the deluge,
Would that a wolf had risen up to diminish humankind!
Instead of thy bringing on the deluge,
Would that a famine had risen up to lay low humankind!
Instead of thy bringing on the deluge,
Would that pestilence had risen up to smite down humankind!
It was not I who disclosed the secret of the great gods.
From this period is a text known as The Babylonian Theodicy, a text similar in theme to that of Job. It contains a dialogue between a sufferer and his friends. The sufferer says:
I am finished. Anguish has come upon me.
When I was still a child, fate took my father;
My mother who bore me went to the
My father and mother left me without anyone to be my guardian.
My body is … hunger is my fear;
My success has vanished, my stability has gone.
My strength is weakened, my prosperity has ended,
Moaning and trouble have darkened my features.
The grain of my fields is far from satisfying me …
His friends are not helpful to him.
Dearest friend, you advice is good.
Just one word would I put before you.
Those who do not seek the god go the way of prosperity,
While those who pray to the goddess become destitute and impoverished.
In my youth I tried to find the will of my god;
With prostration and prayer I sought my goddess.
But I was pulling a yoke in a useless corvee.
My god decreed poverty instead of wealth for me.
A cripple does better than I, a dullard keeps ahead of me.
The rogue has been promoted, but I have been brought low.
Like the friends of Job, the friend of this sufferer accuses him of wrongdoing.
My just, knowledgeable friend, your thoughts are perverse.
You have now forsaken justice and blaspheme against your god’s plans.
In your mind you think of disregarding the divine ordinances.
The friend also considers that the scales of justice will be balanced.
The rogue who has acquired wealth in a manner which is against the will of the gods
Is persecuted by a murderer’s weapon.
Unless you seek the will of the god, what success can you have?
He that bears his god’s yoke never lacks food, even though it be sparse.
Seek the favorable breath of the god,
What you have lost in a year you will make up in a moment.
The sufferer does not think the gods care about justice.
I have looked around in the world, but things are turned around.
The god does not impede the way of even a demon.
What has it profited me that I have bowed down to my god?
I must bow even to a person who is lower than I,
The rich and opulent treat me, as a youngest brother, with contempt.
The friend suggests the heart of the one who suffers is wrong.
O wise one, O savant, who masters knowledge,
Your heart has become hardened and you accuse the god wrongly.
The mind of the god, like the center of the heavens, is remote;
Knowledge of it is very difficult; people cannot know it.
The sufferer protests his innocence.
You are kind, my friend; behold my trouble,
Help me; look on my distress; know it.
I, though humble, wise, and a suppliant,
Have not seen help or aid even for a moment.
May the god who has abandoned me give help,
May the goddess who has forsaken me show mercy,
The shepherd, the sun of the people, pastures his flock as a god should.
Another work from the same period is Counsels of Wisdom. This text offers some guidance on talk.
Do not talk with a tale bearer,
Do not consult … who is an idler;
Because of your good qualities, you will be made into an example for them.
Then you will reduce your own work, forsake your path,
And will let your wise, modest opinion be perverted.
Let your mouth be restrained and your speech guarded;
That is a man’s pride – let what you say be very precious.
Do not speak ill, speak only good.
Do not say evil things, speak well of people.
Do not talk too freely, watch what you say.
Do not express your innermost thoughts even when you are alone.
What you say in haste you may regret later.
Exert yourself to restrain your speech.
The text gives counsel in terms of social relationships.
Do not return evil to your adversary;
Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you,
Maintain justice for your enemy,
Be friendly to your enemy.
Do good things, be kind all your days.
Do not honor a slave girl in your house.
Do not marry a prostitute, whose husbands are legion.
The text offers counsel in religious practices.
Worship your god every day.
Sacrifice and pious utterance are the proper accompaniment of incense.
Have a freewill offering for your god,
For this is proper toward a god.
Prayer, supplication, and prostration
Offer him daily, then your prayer will be granted,
And you will be in harmony with your god.
Reverence begets favor,
Sacrifice improves life
And prayer dispels guilt.
Another text from the Akkadian period is I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom. The text offers a lament.
I will praise the lord of wisdom, the deliberative god,
Who lays hold of the night, but frees the day,
Marduk, the lord of wisdom, the deliberative god,
Who lays hold of the night, but frees the day,
Whose fury surrounds him like a storm wind,
But whose breeze is as pleasant as a morning zephyr,
Whose anger is irresistible, whose rage is a devastating food,
But whose heart is merciful, whose mind forgiving.
The text laments that god has forsaken the author.
My god has forsaken me and disappeared,
My goddess has cut me off and stayed removed from me.
The benevolent spirit who was always beside me, has departed,
My protective spirit has flown away and seeks someone else.
My dignity has been taken away, my manly good looks jeopardized,
My pride has been cut off, my protection has skipped off.
Terrifying omens have been brought upon me,
I was put out of my house and wandered about outside.
Others conspire against him.
They gather together telling things that ought not be said.
Thus the first, “I have made him want to end his life.”
The second says, “I made him vacate his post.”
Likewise the third, “I shall take over his position.”
“I will take over his house,” says the fourth.
They are one in flesh, united in purpose.
Their hearts rage against me and they are ablaze like fire.
They agree on slander and lies about me.
They have sought to muzzle my respectful mouth.
The author laments his present condition, especially as it compares to his previous good fortune.
I, whose lips always prattled, have become like a mute.
My hearty shout is reduced to silence,
My proud head is bowed to the ground,
Fear has weakened my brave heart.
Even a youngster has turned back my broad chest.
I, who used to walk like a proud man, have learned to slip by unnoticed.
Though I was a respectable man, I have become a slave.
To my many relations I have become like a recluse.
If I walk the street, fingers are pointed at me;
If I enter the palace, eyes blink.
My own town looks on me as an enemy;
Even my land is savage and hostile.
My friend has become a stranger,
My companion has become an evil person and a demon.
In his rage my comrade denounces me,
Constantly my associate furbishes his weapons.
My close friend has brought my life into danger;
My slave has publicly cursed me in the assembly.
When someone who knows me sees me, he passes by on the other side.
My family treats me as if I were not related to them,
The grave is ready for anyone who speaks well of me,
But he who speaks ill of me is promoted.
The one who slanders me has the god’s help;
I have no one to go at my side, nor have I found anyone understanding.
They divided all my possessions among foreign riffraff.
They stopped up the source of my canal with silt.
They have stopped the joyous harvest song in my fields,
And silenced my city like an enemy city.
They have let another take over my duties,
They appointed someone else to be present at the rites where I should be.
By day there is sighing, by night lamentation,
The month is waililng, the year is gloom.
I moan like a dove all day long.
Instead of singing a song I groan loudly.
My ill luck increases and I cannot find what is right.
As for me, exhausted, a windstorm is driving me on!
Debilitating Disease is let loose upon me:
An Evil Wind has blown from the horizon.
My malady is indeed protracted.
Through not eating, my looks have become strange,
My flesh is flaccid, and my blood has ebbed away.
My bones look separated, and are covered only with my skin.
My house has become my prison.
My arms are powerless – my own flesh is a manacle,
My feet are fallen flat – my own person is a fetter.
My afflictions are grievous, my wound is severe.
A whip full of needles has struck me,
The goad that pricked my was covered with barbs.
All day long the tormentor torments me,
And at night he does not let me breathe easily for a minute.
Through twisting my joints are parted,
My limbs are splayed and knocked apart.
The author calls to god, but god does not answer.
I called to my god, but he did not show his face,
I called to my goddess, but she did not raise her head.
For myself, I gave attention to supplication and prayer:
My prayer was discretion, sacrifice my rule.
The day for worshipping the god was a joy to my heart;
The day of the goddess’s procession was profit and gain to me.
The king’s blessing – that was my joy,
And the accompanying music became a delight for me.
I had my land keep the god’s rites,
And brought my people to value the goddess’s name.
I made the praise for the king like a god’s,
And taught the people respect for the palace.
I wish I knew that these things would be pleasing to one’s god!
My god has not come to the rescue nor taken me by the hand;
My goddess has not shown pity on me nor gone by my side.
My grave was waiting, and my funerary paraphernalia ready,
Before I was even dead lamentation for me was finished.
All my country said, “How he is crushed!”
The face of him who gloats lit up when he heard,
The news reached her who gloats, and her heart rejoiced.
Finally, however, god answers the prayer.
He who has done wrong in respect to Esagil, let him learn from me!
It was Marduk who put a muzzle on the mouth of the lion who was eating me.
It was Marduk who took away the sling of the one who was pursuing me and turned back his sling-stone.
The Lord took hold of me,
The Lord set me on my feet,
The Lord restored me to health,
He rescued me from the pit,
He summoned me from destruction.
Humanity, all of it, gives praise to Marduk!
26 If a man gives bride-money for another man’s daughter, but another man seizes her forcibly without asking the permission of her father and her mother and deprives her of her virginity, it is a capital offence and he shall die.
27 If a man takes another man’s daughter without asking the permission of her father and her mother and concludes no formal marriage contract with her father and her mother, even though she may live in his house for a year, she is not a housewife.
28 On the other hand, if he concludes a normal contract with her father and her mother and cohabits with her, she is a housewife. When she is caught with another man, she shall die, she shall not get away alive.
59 if a man divorces his wife after having made her bear children and takes another wife, he shall be driven from his house and from whatever he owns and may go after him who will accept him.
This code has several significant parallels to the Old Testament legislation. The use of “seignior” is a term for a free person.
1 If a seignior accused another seignior and brought a charge of murder against him, but has not proved it, his accuser shall be put to death.
8 If a seignior stole either an ox or a sheep or an ass or a pig or a boat, if it belonged to the church or if it belonged to the state, he shall make thirtyfold restitution; if it belonged to a private citizen, he shall make good tenfold. If the thief does not have sufficient to make restitution, he shall be put to death.
15 You shall not steal.
19 Neither shall you steal.
Deuteronomy 22:1-4 (NRSV)
You shall not watch your neighbor’s ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner. 2 If the owner does not reside near you or you do not know who the owner is, you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until the owner claims it; then you shall return it. 3 You shall do the same with a neighbor’s donkey; you shall do the same with a neighbor’s garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses and you find. You may not withhold your help.
4 You shall not see your neighbor’s donkey or ox fallen on the road and ignore it; you shall help to lift it up.
11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.
13 You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.
14 If a seignior has stole the young son of another seignior, he shall be put to death.
15 If a seignior has helped either a male slave of the state or a female slave of the state or a male slave of a private citizen or a female slave or a private citizen to escape through the city-gate, he shall be put to death.
Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or is still held in possession, shall be put to death.
Deuteronomy 24:7 (NRSV)
If someone is caught kidnaping another Israelite, enslaving or selling the Israelite, then that kidnaper shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
21 If a seignior made a breach in a house, they shall put him to death in front of that breach and wall him in.
Exodus 22:2-3 (NRSV)
2 If a thief is found breaking in, and is beaten to death, no bloodguilt is incurred; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, bloodguilt is incurred.
22 If a seignior committed robbery and has been caught, that seignior shall be put to death.
23 If the robber has not been caught, the robbed seignior shall be set forth the particulars regarding his lost property in the presence of god, and the city and governor, in whose territory and district the robbery was committed, shall make good to him his lost property.
24 If it was a life that was lost, the city and governor shall pay one mina of silver to his people.
Deuteronomy 21:1-9 (NRSV)
the land that the Lord your God
is giving you to possess, a body is found lying in open country, and it is not
known who struck the person down, 2 then your elders and your judges
shall come out to measure the distances to the towns that are near the body. 3
The elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has
never been worked, one that has not pulled in the yoke; 4 the elders
of that town shall bring the heifer down to a wadi with running water, which is
neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the wadi. 5
Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to
minister to him and to pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord, and by their decision all cases
of dispute and assault shall be settled. 6 All the elders of that
town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was
broken in the wadi, 7 and they shall declare: “Our hands did not
shed this blood, nor were we witnesses to it. 8 Absolve, O Lord, your people
34 If either a sergeant or a captain has appropriated the household goods of a soldier, has wronged a soldier, has let a soldier for hier, has abandoned a soldier to a superior in a lawsuit, has appropriated the grant which the king gave to a soldier, that sergeant or captain shall be put to death.
38 In no case may a soldier, a commissary, or a feudatory deed any of his field, orchard, or house belonging to his field, orchard, or house belonging to his fief to his wife or daughter, and in no case may he assign them for an obligation of his.
57 If a shepherd has not come to an agreement with the owner of a field to pasture sheep on the grass, but has pastured sheep on the field without the consent of the owner of the field, when the owner of the field harvests his field, the shepherd who pastured the sheep on the field without the consent of the owner of the field shall give in addition twenty kur of grain per eighteen iku to the owner of the field.
60 If, when a seignior gave a field to a gardener to set out an orchard, the gardener set out the orchard, he shall develop the orchard for four years; in the fifth year the owner of the orchard and the gardener shall divide equally, with the owner of the orchard receiving his preferential share.
117 If an obligation came due against a seignior and he sold the services of his wife, his son, or his daughter, or he has been bound over to service, they shall work in the house of their purchaser or oblige for three years, with their freedom reestablished in the fourth year.
Exodus 21:2-11 (NRSV)
2 When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” 6 then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.
7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her. 9 If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.
Deuteronomy 15:12-18 (NRSV)
12 If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew
man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the
seventh year you shall set that person free. 13 And when you send a
male slave out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed.
14 Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and
your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. 15 Remember
that you were a slave in the
You shall do the same with regard to your female slave.
18 Do not consider it a hardship when you send them out from you free persons, because for six years they have given you services worth the wages of hired laborers; and the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.
126 If the seignior’s property was not lost, but he has declared, “My property is lost,” thus deceiving his city council, his city council shall set forth the facts regarding him in the presence of god, that his property was not lost, and he shall give to his city council double whatever he laid claim to.
11 And now, my daughter, do not be afraid, I will do for you all that you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman.
10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place; today you are witnesses.”
129 If the wife of a seignior has been caught while lying with another man, they shall bind them and throw them into the water. If the husband of the woman wishes to spare his wife, then the king in turn may spare his subject.
22 If a man is caught lying with the wife of
another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as
the woman. So you shall purge the evil from
130 If a seignior bound the betrothed wife of another seignior, who had had no intercourse with a male and was still living in her father’s house, and he has lain in her bosom and they have caught him, that seignior shall be put to death, while that woman shall go free.
Deuteronomy 22:23-27 (NRSV)
23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
25 But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. 27 Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her.
132 If the finger was pointed at the wife of a seignior because of another man, but she has not been caught while lying with the other man, she shall throw herself into the river for the sake of her husband.
Numbers 5:11-31 (NRSV)
11 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 12 Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, 13 if a man has had intercourse with her but it is hidden from her husband, so that she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her since she was not caught in the act; 14 if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; 15 then the man shall bring his wife to the priest. And he shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour. He shall pour no oil on it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance.
16 Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord; 17 the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. 18 The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. 19 Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. 20 But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you,” 21 —let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—“the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; 22 now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”
23 Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24 He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. 25 The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; 26 and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.
29 This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when a spirit of jealousy comes on a man and he is jealous of his wife; then he shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall apply this entire law to her. 31 The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.
138 If a seignior wishes to divorce his wife who did not bear him children, he shall give her money to the full amount of her marriage-price and he shall also make good to her the dowry which she brought from her father’s house and then he may divorce her.
154 If a seignior has had intercourse with his daughter, they shall make that seignior leave the city.
Leviticus 18:6-18 (NRSV)
6 None of you shall approach anyone near of kin to uncover nakedness: I am the Lord. 7 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness. 8 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is the nakedness of your father. 9 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether born at home or born abroad. 10 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son’s daughter or of your daughter’s daughter, for their nakedness is your own nakedness. 11 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, begotten by your father, since she is your sister. 12 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is your father’s flesh. 13 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is your mother’s flesh. 14 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother, that is, you shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt. 15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law: she is your son’s wife; you shall not uncover her nakedness. 16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness. 17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, and you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are yourflesh; it is depravity. 18 And you shall not take a woman as a rival to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.
Leviticus 20:10-21 (NRSV)
10 If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. 11 The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. 12 If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed perversion, their blood is upon them. 13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. 14 If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is depravity; they shall be burned to death, both he and they, that there may be no depravity among you. 15 If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the animal. 16 If a woman approaches any animal and has sexual relations with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.
17 If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people; he has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, he shall be subject to punishment. 18 If a man lies with a woman having her sickness and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow and she has laid bare her flow of blood; both of them shall be cut off from their people. 19 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister or of your father’s sister, for that is to lay bare one’s own flesh; they shall be subject to punishment. 20 If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness; they shall be subject to punishment; they shall die childless. 21 If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity; he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.
Deuteronomy 27:20 (NRSV)
20 “Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has violated his father’s rights.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”
Deuteronomy 27:22-23 (NRSV)
22 “Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”
23 “Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”
155 If a seignior chose a bride for his son and his son had intercourse with her, but later he himself has lain in her bosom and they have caught him, they shall bind that seignior and throw him into the water.
156 If a seignior chose a bride for his son and his son did not have intercourse with her, but he himself has lain in her bosom, he shall pay to her one-half mina of silver and he shall also make good to her whatever she brought from her father’s house in order that the man of her choice may marry her.
157 If a seignior has lain in the bosom of his mother after the death of his father, they shall born both of them.
195 If a son has struck his father, they shall cut off his hand.
15 Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.
197 If he has broken another seignior’s bone, they shall break his bone.
198 If he has destroyed the eye of a commoner or broken the bone of a commoner, he shall pay one mina of silver.
199 If he has destroyed the eye of a seignior’s slave or broken the bone of a seignior’s slave, he shall pay one-half his value.
209 If a seignior struck another seignior’s daughter and has caused her to have a miscarriage, he shall pay ten shekels of silver for her fetus.
Exodus 21:22-25 (NRSV)
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
210 If that woman has died, they shall put his daughter to death.
The first king of the 4th dynasty, Snefru, probably built the step pyramid of Maydum and then modified it to form the first true pyramid. Due west of Maydum was the small step pyramid of Saylah, in the Fayyum, at which Snefru also worked. He built two pyramids at Dahshur; the southern of the two is known as the Bent Pyramid because its upper part has a shallower angle of inclination than its lower part. This difference may be due to structural problems or may have been planned from the start, in which case the resulting profile may reproduce a solar symbol of creation. The northern Dahshur pyramid, the later of the two, has the same angle of inclination as the upper part of the Bent Pyramid and a base area exceeded only by that of the Great Pyramid. Both pyramids had mortuary complexes attached to them. Snefru's building achievements were thus at least as great as those of any later king and introduced a century of unparalleled construction.
In a long perspective, the 4th dynasty was an isolated phenomenon, a period when the potential of centralization was realized to its utmost and a disproportionate amount of the state's resources was used on the kings' mortuary provisions, almost certainly at the expense of general living standards. No significant 4th-dynasty sites have been found away from the Memphite area. Tomb inscriptions show that high officials were granted estates scattered over many nomes, especially in the Delta. This pattern of landholding may have avoided the formation of local centres of influence while encouraging intensive exploitation of the land. People who worked on these estates were not free to move, and they paid a high proportion of their earnings in dues and taxes. The building enterprises must have relied on drafting vast numbers of men, probably after the harvest had been gathered in the early summer and during part of the inundation.
Snefru's was the first king's name that was regularly written inside the cartouche, an elongated oval that is one of the most characteristic Egyptian symbols. The cartouche itself is older and was shown as a gift bestowed by gods on the king, signifying long duration on the throne. It soon acquired associations with the sun, so that its first use by the builder of the first true pyramid, which is probably also a solar symbol, is not coincidental.
Snefru's successor, Khufu (Cheops), built the Great Pyramid at Giza, to which were added the slightly smaller second pyramid of one of Khufu's sons, Khafre (more correctly Rekhaef, the Chephren of Greek sources), and that of Menkaure (Mycerinus). Khufu's successor, his son Redjedef, began a pyramid at Abu Ruwaysh, and a king of uncertain name began one at Zawyat al-'Aryan. The last known king of the dynasty (there was probably one further), Shepseskaf, built a monumental mastaba at south Saqqarah and was the only Old Kingdom ruler not to begin a pyramid. These works, especially the Great Pyramid, show a great mastery of monumental stoneworking: individual blocks were large or colossal and were very accurately fitted to one another. Surveying and planning also were carried out with remarkable precision.
Apart from the colossal conception of the pyramids themselves, the temple complexes attached to them show great mastery of architectural forms. Khufu's temple or approach causeway was decorated with impressive reliefs, fragments of which were incorporated in the 12th-dynasty pyramid of Amenemhet I at al-Lisht. The best known of all Egyptian sculpture, Khafre's Great Sphinx at Giza and his extraordinary seated statue of Nubian gneiss, date from the middle 4th dynasty.
Stone records a campaign to
the builders of the
The 5th dynasty (c. 2465–c. 2325 BC)
The first two kings of the 5th dynasty, Userkaf and Sahure, were sons of a lady, Khentkaues, who was a member of the 4th-dynasty royal family. The third king, Neferirkare, may also have been her son. A story from the Middle Kingdom that makes them all sons of a priest of Re may derive from a tradition that they were true worshipers of the sun god and implies, probably falsely, that the 4th-dynasty kings were not. Six kings of the 5th dynasty displayed their devotion to the sun god by building personal temples to his cult. These temples, of which the two so far identified are sited similarly to pyramids, probably had a mortuary significance for the king as well as honouring the god. The kings' pyramids should therefore be seen in conjunction with the temples, some of which received lavish endowments and were served by many high-ranking officials.
Pyramids have been identified for seven of the nine kings of
the dynasty, at Saqqarah (Userkaf and Unas, the last king), Abu
Sir (Sahure, Neferirkare, Reneferef, and Nuserre), and south Saqqarah
(Djedkare Izezi, the eighth king). The pyramids are smaller and less solidly
constructed than those of the 4th dynasty, but the reliefs from their mortuary
temples are better preserved and of very fine quality; that of Sahure gives a
fair impression of their decorative program. The interiors contained religious
scenes relating to provision for Sahure in the next life, while the exteriors
presented his “historical” role and relations with the gods. Sea expeditions to
connections were far-flung. Goldwork of the period has been found in Anatolia,
while stone vases named for Khafre and Pepi I (6th dynasty) have been found at
Tall Mardikh in Syria, the capital of the important state of Ebla, which
was destroyed around 2250 BC The absence of 5th-dynasty evidence from the site
is probably a matter of chance. Expeditions to the turquoise mines of Sinai
continued as before. In
High officials of the 5th dynasty were no longer members of
the royal family, although a few married princesses. Their offices still
depended on the king, and in their biographical inscriptions they presented
their exploits as relating to him, but they justified other aspects of their
social role in terms of a more general morality. They progressed through their
careers by acquiring titles in complex ranked sequences that were manipulated
by kings throughout the 5th and 6th dynasties. This institutionalization of
officialdom has an archaeological parallel in the distribution of elite tombs,
which no longer clustered so closely around pyramids. Many are at
Something of the working of the central administration is visible in papyri from the mortuary temples of Neferirkare and Reneferef at Abu Sir. These show well-developed methods of accounting and meticulous recordkeeping and document the complicated redistribution of goods and materials between the royal residence, the temples, and officials who held priesthoods. Despite this evidence for detailed organization, the consumption of papyrus was modest and cannot be compared, for example, with that of Greco-Roman times.
three kings of the dynasty, Menkauhor, Djedkare Izezi, and Unas, did not have
personal names compounded with “-Re,” the name of the sun god (Djedkare is a
name assumed on accession); and Izezi and Unas did not build solar temples.
Thus there was a slight shift away from the solar cult. The shift could be
linked with the rise of Osiris, the god of the dead,
who is first attested from the reign of Neuserre. His origin was, however,
probably some centuries earlier. The pyramid of Unas, whose approach causeway
was richly decorated with historical and religious scenes, is inscribed inside
with spells intended to aid the deceased in the
hereafter; varying selections of the spells occur in all later
The 6th dynasty (c. 2325–c. 2150 BC)
change can be discerned between the reigns of Unas and Teti,
the first king of the 6th dynasty. Around Teti's pyramid in the northern
portion of Saqqarah was built a cemetery of large tombs,
including those of several viziers. Together with tombs near the pyramid of
Unas, this is the latest group of private monuments of the
on 6th-dynasty political and external affairs is more abundant because
inscriptions of high officials were longer. Whether the circumstances they
describe were also typical of less loquacious ages is unknown, but the very
existence of such inscriptions is evidence of a tendency to greater
independence among officials. One, Weni, who lived from the reign of Teti
through those of Pepi I and Merenre, was a special judge in the trial of a
conspiracy in the royal household, mounted several campaigns against a region
east of Egypt or in southern Palestine, and organized two quarrying
expeditions. In the absence of a standing army, the Egyptian force was levied
from the provinces by officials from local administrative centres and other
settlements; there were also contingents from several southern countries and a
tribe of the
biographies of officials from
The provincializing tendencies of the late 5th dynasty
continued in the 6th, especially during the extremely long reign (up to 94 years)
of Pepi II. Increasing numbers of officials resided in the provinces, amassed
local offices, and emphasized local concerns, including religious leadership,
in their inscriptions. At the capital the size and splendour of the cemeteries
decreased, and some tombs of the end of the dynasty were decorated only in
their subterranean parts, as if security could not be guaranteed aboveground.
The pyramid complex of Pepi II at southern Saqqarah, which was
probably completed in the first 30 years of his reign, stands out against this
background as the last major monument of the
Pepi II was
followed by several ephemeral rulers, who were in turn succeeded by the
short-lived 7th dynasty of Manetho's history (from which no king's name is
known) and the 8th, one of whose kings, Ibi, built a small pyramid at southern Saqqarah.
Several 8th-dynasty kings are known from inscriptions found in the
end of the 8th dynasty the
The 9th dynasty (c. 2130–2080 BC)
end of the 8th dynasty the throne passed to kings from Heracleopolis, who made
their native city the capital, although
A period of
generalized conflict focused on twin dynasties at
Several major literary texts purport to describe the upheavals of the First Intermediate Period, the “Instruction for Merikare,” for example, being ascribed to one of the kings of the 9th or 10th dynasty. These texts led earlier Egyptologists to posit a Heracleopolitan literary flowering, but there is now a tendency to date them to the Middle Kingdom, so that they would have been written with enough hindsight to allow a more effective critique of the sacred order. The “Heracleopolitan Age” may therefore be a fiction.
11th dynasty made
First Intermediate Period, monuments were set up by a slightly larger section
of the population and, in the absence of central control, internal dissent and
conflicts of authority became visible in public records. Nonroyal individuals
took over some of the privileges of royalty, notably identification with Osiris
in the hereafter and the use of the Pyramid Texts; these were incorporated into
a more extensive corpus inscribed on coffins (and hence termed the Coffin
Texts) and continued to be inscribed during the Middle Kingdom. The unified
state of the Middle Kingdom did not reject these acquisitions and so had a
broader cultural basis than the
"The Instruction of Vizier Ptah-hotep," is an Egyptian writing of 2450 BC.
If you are one of those sitting at the table of one greater than yourself...Laugh after he laughs, and it will be very pleasing to his heart and what you may do will be pleasing to the heart. No one can know what is in the heart.
If you are one of those sitting at the table of one greater than oneself, take what he may give, when it is set before your nose. You should gaze at what is before you...Let your face be cast down until he addresses you, and you should speak only when he addresses you.
If you are a person of intimacy, whom one great person sends to another, be thoroughly reliable when he sends for you. Carry out the errand for him as he has spoken... Grasp hold of truth, and do not exceed it.
If you are now important after your former unimportance, so that you may do things after a neediness formerly in the town which you know, in contrast to what was your lot before, do not be miserly with your wealth, which has accrued to you as the gift of god.
If a son accepts what his father says, no project of his miscarries.
If you are a man of standing, you should found your household and love your wife at home as is fitting....Make her heart glad as long as you live. She is a profitable field for her lord....Let her heart be soothed through what may accrue to you; it means keeping her long in your house.
Do not be greedy, unless it be for thy own portion. Do not be covetous against thy own kindred. Greater is the respect for the mild than for the strong. He is a mean person who exposes his kinsfolk; he is empty of the fruits of conversation.
The stories of the Patriarchs occur between 2000 and 1600 BC. This includes the middle bronze age (1950-1550 BC) and the late bronze age (1500-1200 BC).
The clans lived the life of pastoral
semi-nomads, tending flocks and herds. They were peaceable, and lived in tends
on the steppe, especially on the southern margin of the arable part of
People living off the little that
the arid desert affords, with its scanty and irregular rains, have few options
if they wish to survive. Their culture,
which is mainly an array of responses to challenges posed by the desert, cannot
vary greatly from one place to another or from one period to another. Hence, many aspects of biblical life,
especially as lived by the patriarchs in the Judean and
if you should spy travelers from lands far away,
stand in front of the tent till they see you and turn.
The rhymed word is given magical power in unlettered society. The use of unleavened bread may distinguish themselves from sedentary Egyptians. Even today, they can refer to the easy life negatively, referring to use of soft bread.
traditions are now embedded in written material that came from a much later
time. It contains stories about Abraham
and his migration from the
Genesis 12:6-9 (NRSV)
6 Abram passed through the land to the place at
Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7
Then the Lord appeared to
Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there
an altar to the Lord, who had
appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the
There may be a text from about 1500 BC in Genesis 14, recording a military campaign.
Genesis 14 (NRSV)
days of King Amraphel of Shinar, King Arioch of Ellasar, King Chedorlaomer of
Elam, and King Tidal of Goiim, 2 these kings made war with King Bera
of Sodom, King Birsha of Gomorrah, King Shinab of Admah, King Shemeber of
Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 All these joined
forces in the
13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the
Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and
of Aner; these were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his
nephew had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house,
three hundred eighteen of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 He
divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and routed them
and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought
back all the goods, and also brought back his nephew
17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer
and the kings who were with him, the king of
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
maker of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. 21
Then the king of
The birth of Ishmael is recounted, largely from the J document.
Genesis 16:1-2 (NRSV)
Now Sarai … had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, 2 and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
Genesis 16:4-14 (NRSV)
4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.
7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her,
“Now you have conceived and shall bear a son;
you shall call him Ishmael,
for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
12 He shall be a wild ass of a man,
with his hand against everyone,
and everyone’s hand against him;
and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”
13 So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.
There are several statements about the covenant established with Abraham.
The destruction of
Two stories exist of Abraham lying about Sarah, one from the J document in 12:10-20 and one from the E document in chapter 20.
There may be an isolated piece of tradition from Moab, a folk take from the 1200's BC, concerning the origin of the Moabites and Ammonites, in Genesis 19:30-38.
The birth of Isaac and dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael are told about. The J document offers a rather simple account of the birth of Isaac.
Genesis 21:1-2 (NRSV)
The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. 2 Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.
The E document offers the birth of Isaac and the dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael.
Genesis 21:6-21 (NRSV)
6 Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
8 The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” 11 The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. 13 As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
The potential sacrifice of Isaac is given.
Genesis 22:1-19 (NRSV)
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.
We hear of the expansion of the family of Abraham through Keturah in 25:1-6 and descendants of Abraham through Ishmael in 25:12-18.
The marriage of Isaac to Rebekkah is recounted in chapter 24.
Then there is the story of Isaac and Jacob. The J document offers the birth of Esau and Jacob in 25:21-28. Esau gives up his birthright in 25:29-34. We read of the lying of Isaac to protect his wife in 26:1-14. God establishes a covenant with Isaac.
Genesis 26:24-25 (NRSV)
24 And that very night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there, called on the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.
Jacob obtains the blessing of Isaac through fraud in chapter 27. Jacob has a dream of the presence of Yahweh in 28:13-16
Genesis 28:13-16 (NRSV)
13 And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”
This gives the birth of Esau and Jacob, the former giving up his birthright. Jacob receives Isaac's blessing by fraud. A dream of Jacob's, with angels ascending upon a ladder, is given in Genesis 28. Jacob marries two women, Leah and Rachel, in chapters 29-30, having himself been tricked to do so. Jacob then tricks his father in law and becomes wealthy. Jacob meets with God, just before his traumatic meeting with Esau, in Genesis 32
Genesis 32:22-33 (NRSV)
22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
In the E document, Jacob was in flight from his father-in-law in chapter 31 and a treaty. This document also contains the story of Joseph in 40-42.
Some ancient Stories are included chapter 34.
The rape of Dinah in chapter 34 may be one early story.
The matrimonial alliance with the Shechemites may be another early story.
The revenge of Simeon and Levi, probably dating from before 1200 BC.
The story of the Patriarchs is one in which Israel remembers its history as one of God calling the people from among the nations and abandoning other gods. In response to Yahweh, they went to a new land. Enemies surround them. Yet, God calls them to extend hospitality and to be a blessing to the nations.
As to the religious and cultic ties, these ancestors of Israel had no attachment to any specific place. It has no pattern of worship practices and it has no priests. God gives unobtrusive guidance. The unwarlike attitude in the stories of the patriarchs is due to cultural conditions, for they were not a people, but peaceable nomads tending sheep and cattle. They still lived before the fulfillment of the promise. Its characteristic feature is its invariable connection with a particular group of people and the fortunes of that group.
The main emphasis was on the relationship between God and humanity, and between God and a group of people, without fixed attachment to a place, and on that account all the better adaptable to any changes in the fortunes of those devoted to this worship.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the first to receive the revelation of a deity who pledged to care for them and lead them, and who promised them a portion in the arable land and a great posterity. The groups handed on from generation to generation through their worship this memory of election. Worship and all its promises of blessing derived its sanction from the revelation given to the ancestors. Reference to God as the father of Abraham, the Fear of Isaac, and the Mighty One of Jacob suggest such a religious experience.
They knew God as El, a name of several meanings, possibly related to strength or to a binding force. Worship of El was in contrast to the worship of Baal. Other divine names were built off this early form. El Shaddai refers to the mountain, or most high. Elyon denotes the deity as most high as apex of the pantheon of the gods. El Olam refers to God of Eternity. El Roi refers to God of appearance. El Elohe usually suggests El as the God of Israel. Elohim is an abstract plural, serving to expand and reinforce the concept in question, and to elevate the one designated. The groups may have remained distinct from each for a time, even though they eventually united.
The divine intention showed itself in divine activity. In this period, Yahweh became visible in human form. The old folk-sagas tell of encounters with the deity in human for, such as Genesis 18 and 32.
The most prominent item in the covenant with the patriarchs was the promise of the land. The recipient of the covenant establishes the sign in confessional form through circumcision. In content, the covenant with Abraham contains three promises.
The promise of land and people had reference to an imminent fulfillment in the settlement of the patriarchs in Canaan. They lived in the land, but they never possessed it. Those who inhabit it are still the Canaanites. The Priestly Document referred to this as the land of your sojourning. The orientation towards possession lies outside the limits provided by their history.
The era of the patriarchs is the time of promise, an elaborate preparatory arrangement for the creation of the people of God and for its life. What is new is the theological employment of the promise as a word of God that set in motion the whole of the saving history down to the conquest under Joshua. Behind the stories of the patriarchs is amazement at the far-reaching preparations that Yahweh had made to summon Israel into being. They point out the mysterious postponement of the promised gift of the son, in the course of which the recipient of the promises stands or falls. These stories are not only interested in the fact of the divine promise and guidance as such, but they also bring within their view all the human experience of the recipient of the promise, in which reactions and conflicts the promise is reflected.
The problem of faith lies behind these stories of Abraham. Until now, there have been episodes in the pre-history of the race as a whole. Now the story moves to an individual, extending to his family, and later still a nation. Rather than the story of individuals, it is the story of a society in quest of an ideal. Nothing said before prepares us for Abraham’s mission. The call comes suddenly, to a destination not yet disclosed. He made a complete break with his environment. The spiritual journey is for Abraham’s mission. The spiritual objective is implicit, made clear in Joshua 24:2, "They served other gods." This was no routine expedition, but a journey to discover spiritual truths.
The call of Abram does more than separate a lone herdsman from his ancestral family. This call separates the old animistic, anthropocentric notions of the universe from a remarkably new way of viewing the divine/human or creator/creation relationship. The gods themselves behaved as people do, with human loves, hates, concerns, grievances, reactions. Yet, while these gods were highly personified, they were deficient in meaningful personal relationships with mortal beings. Only through this new notion of a pledged, covenantal relationship forged between a human being and a single, omnipotent deity, as described here in Gn. 12, is there established a genuine and unswerving communion between humans and God. While it is unclear exactly what prompted Terah’s initial move from Ur to Haran, there is no ambiguity about what inspired Abram’s move. God commands Abram to leave his country, kindred, and father’s house - everything, in fact that gave Abram his personal identity. Abandoning the clan meant leaving one’s only source of law, morality, safety, security and identity. For Abram to leave the enclave of his family was to put his future survival - both psychological and personal - very much at risk. The call of Abram (his name will not become "Abraham" until Genesis 17) opens a new chapter in biblical history. Up to this point in the Bible, history has been painted in the broadest possible strokes; from this point on, history will be viewed and interpreted through the aperture of a single social line, the seed of Abram, chosen by God to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
The stories of Jacob confront the reader with the problem of the hiddenness of the actions of God with the patriarchs. Compared with the Abraham cycle, the one about Joseph is less spiritual. The picture is a worldly one. The malice of the men, the struggle of the women for the man, the undignified interpretation attached to the name of each of the ancestors of the race, as due to the momentary situation of a discontented woman.
The texts of the story of Joseph are a connected and didactic narrative, similar to wisdom literature. This is the longest patriarchal Story. They have a compact and straightforward approach to their theme. Instead of each chapter designating a unit of tradition, it designates one segment of the on-going story. They never existed separately. The mass of material is divided into various scenes or acts. Each scene has its own climax, while not detracting from the larger story. The basic Joseph story is 37, 39-47, 50. They unroll a canvas of worldly confusions and mounting conflicts. This is novelle rather than the saga of previous patriarchal stories.
The story of Joseph has guidance as its subject. God has directed everything for good. In deep hiddenness God has used all the dark things in human nature to further the plans of God. The leading theme is the relationship between Joseph and his brothers. The brothers are not tribal figures, but persons. It is not historical biography. The Joseph stores show how the people who played a leading role in them were refined by suffering. Because he is impressed by Yahweh’s saving guidance, Joseph forgives his brothers. The brothers have become different persons in the interval. The story entertains. However, beyond that, Joseph is an embodiment of the ideal youth of the wisdom school. Joseph must give political counsel here, and even proper speech. This required propriety and self-discipline. Joseph and Potiphar's wife is also close to wisdom warnings against "strange women." The Joseph story speaks of God indirectly, with 45:5-7 and 50:20-21 being programmatic. The faith of the Joseph story is separate from covenant theology. Note that Pharaohs did not move to lower Egypt until 1300 BC. The writer has knowledge of Egypt, but based on his own day, probably in Solomon’s.
When I turn to the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis, they contain inexhaustible wealth of highly characteristic and essentially unique happenings between a group of people and their God. The speaker in the story is Israel and the actor is Yahweh, and not the actual God the patriarchs knew. The stories now have a design to serve a later age.
Note that faith is not the subject of the confession of Israel, but only its vehicle. The subject is not the world of faith of Israel or the creative productivity of Yahwism.
One oversimplifies to explain the assimilation of tradition based on mythical, pre-logical, or archaic levels of thought.
 Clinton Bailey, "Bedouin Law Explains Reaction to Rape of Dinah, 11 Bible Review, August 199 1.