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Divination, Politics, and Ancient Near Eastern Empires

Divination, Politics, and Ancient Near Eastern Empires

Alan Lenzi
Jonathan Stökl
  • Book Info
    Divination, Politics, and Ancient Near Eastern Empires
    Book Description:

    Advance your understanding of divination's role in supporting or undermining imperial aspirations in the ancient Near East

    This collection examines the ways that divinatory texts in the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East undermined and upheld the empires in which the texts were composed, edited, and read. Nine essays and an introduction engage biblical scholarship on the Prophets, Assyriology, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the critical study of Ancient Empires.


    Interdisciplinary approaches include propaganda studiesEssays examine how biblical and other ancient Near Eastern texts were shaped by political and theological empiresIndex of ancient sources

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-998-4
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Jonathan Stökl and Alan Lenzi

    This volume is the result of a session of the Prophetic Texts in their Ancient Contexts seminar at the 2011 national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. The session was entitled “Divination, Propaganda, and Empire.” The aim of the session was to clarify the context of prophecy and other forms of divination within their respective political and/or theological empires. The essays by Jeffrey Cooley, Beate Pongratz-Leisten, Göran Eidevall, Joseph Blenkinsopp, and Ehud Ben Zvi in the present volume are revised versions of the original presentations in that session. To cover a wider spectrum of cases we...

  3. 1 Propaganda, Prognostication, and Planets
    (pp. 7-32)
    Jeffrey L. Cooley

    The issue of whether or not the term “propaganda” can be appropriately applied to ancient Iraq was highlighted in the well-known article on the subject by A. Leo Oppenheim, who treated particularly the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Periods. Despite the fact that this article was a contribution to an anthology assembled by pioneering propaganda scholar Harold Lasswell, Oppenheim did not employ the term “propaganda” a single time.² For Oppenheim, the royal inscriptions were primarily “ceremonial” in nature, though they had the added effect of lionizing the monarch and enlightening members of his court.³ In the same volume, Finkelstein presented the primary...

  4. 2 The King at the Crossroads between Divination and Cosmology
    (pp. 33-48)
    Beate Pongratz-Leisten

    In the last decades, Assyriology has gone to great lengths to divest divination of its magical overtone and redefine it as a form of early science. Jean Bottéro, in his 1974 article “Symptômes, signes, écritures,” was one of the first ancient Near Eastern scholars to stress the central position of divination in Mesopotamian intellectual life, and scholars concerned with divinatory texts followed in this vein.¹ The diviners produced treatises of their craft, which in their vocabulary, technical nomenclature, the same procedure and strict order of the analysis, investigation, and explanation showed great uniformity with treatises of other disciplines,² demonstrating that...

  5. 3 Divination as Warfare: The Use of Divination across Borders
    (pp. 49-64)
    Jonathan Stökl

    Astrology, hepatoscopy and prophecy were commonly used by ancient Near Eastern rulers in order to acquire access to information from the divine spheres so that they could improve their own decisions.¹ Divination is, thus, an enterprise that saw most of its activity within the borders of a state. Indeed, few diviners and few practitioners of ecstatic religion seem to be overly concerned with foreign events unless they directly impact on local events, whether the diviners are central or marginal.² Simplifying I. M. Lewis’ distinction between central and marginal diviners, one might say that central diviners speak in favor of the...

  6. 4 Revisiting Biblical Prophecy, Revealed Knowledge Pertaining to Ritual, and Secrecy in Light of Ancient Mesopotamian Prophetic Texts
    (pp. 65-86)
    Alan Lenzi

    Five years ago, in my work on secret knowledge in ancient Mesopotamia and Biblical Israel, I suggested a fundamental distinction between the treatment of secret, revelatory knowledge in ancient Mesopotamian sources and the same in biblical sources.¹ In the Mesopotamian sources, revealed knowledge was kept secret, guarded by a small cadre of elite scribal scholars who served the king. In the biblical representations² of such, revealed knowledge was not guarded; rather, it was openly available to all who could read or hear it. I aligned this distinction in the treatment of revealed knowledge to the geopolitical standing of Mesopotamia vs....

  7. 5 Chaoskampf against Empire: Yhwh’s Battle against Gog (Ezekiel 38–39) as Resistance Literature
    (pp. 87-108)
    C. A. Strine

    The tale of Yhwh’s conflict with Gog of Magog in Ezekiel 38–39 has long perplexed scholars. Commentators remain at odds about the identity of Gog himself perhaps more than any other question. Stated simply, for whom or what does that enigmatic figure stand as a cipher? Modern identifications have been especially speculative, ranging from the Ottoman Turks (Martin Luther’s proposal) to Napoleon (a popular option in 19thcentury Britain) to Russia (a view that was very prominent in some American circles during the cold war and persists even until this day).¹

    In order to address this question, it is...

  8. 6 Propagandistic Constructions of Empires in the Book of Isaiah
    (pp. 109-128)
    Göran Eidevall

    One way of putting the fundamental question addressed by this paper is: Does the book of Isaiah uphold or undermine empire? There can be no straightforward answer to that question as more than one empire is described in it. Thus, it is necessary to be more specific:Whichempire are we speaking of? To make things even more complicated we need to add: Which part of the book, Proto-, Deutero- or Trito-Isaiah? And which editorial layer?

    Despite all disputes concerning details, a majority of scholars would probably agree that the history of composition and redaction of Isaiah 1–66 covers...

  9. 7 The Theological Politics of Deutero-Isaiah
    (pp. 129-144)
    Joseph Blenkinsopp

    Those of us who have never had to live through a catastrophic situation will find it hard to imagine what life was like for the survivors in Judah in the autumn and winter of 586 bce. The murder and mayhem, destruction of property, loss of the public institutions which sustained communal living, the monarchy in the first place, created a situation of extreme deprivation, disorientation, numbness and anomie. People had to fall back for survival on whatever resources were still available in the household and kinship network to which they belonged. Sooner or later questions about why it happened and...

  10. 8 The Yehudite Collection of Prophetic Books and Imperial Contexts: Some Observations
    (pp. 145-170)
    Ehud Ben Zvi

    The proper starting point for advancing any observations on a topic such as “the Yehudite Collection of Prophetic Books and Imperial Contexts” is an explicit statement of what is meant by the relevant key terms. By “the Yehudite Collection of Prophetic Books” I donotrefer to a collection consisting only of Haggai, Zechariah (or some proposed Haggai-Zechariah corpus, or Zechariah 1-8) and Malachi;nordo I refer to a collection including these books and sections from Isaiah (esp. Isaiah 14-27 and 56-66), some “additions” to other prophetic books (esp. Jeremiah and Ezekiel) and perhaps Jonah and Joel.¹ Instead I...

  11. 9 Power, Politics, and Prophecy in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Second Temple Judaism
    (pp. 171-198)
    Alex P. Jassen

    The constellation of sectarian communities associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls was overmatched in power and prestige by other contemporary Jewish groups.² The sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls condemn the priests in Jerusalem as impure stewards of a defiled temple, denounce the Hasmoneans as illegitimate rulers, and craft a portrait of the Pharisees as misguided interpreters of the law. The sectarians viewed themselves as God’s chosen people and believed that only their priestly leaders could restore the temple to its pristine state; only their teachers properly understood the divine law. Yet, the sectarians recognized the ever-present reality that they were far...

  12. Index of Ancient Texts
    (pp. 199-208)