What is the Torah? Literary Collection of a People –Hebrew myth, folktales, history, poetry, biography, philosophy, prophecy, history, etc. “1st” Monotheism: Yaweh, an all-powerful, dual- natured god. –A god of violence, vengeance, and destruction –A god of covenants, blessings, protection A nationalist or founding story (of Israel) –From a loose tribal collection of people –To a national identity of a chosen people
The Hebrew Bible read as living literature is a tragic epic with a single long plot: the tale of the fall of a hero through his weaknesses. The hero is Israel, a people given a destiny almost too high for human beings, the charge of God’s law… Unlike all other epic tragedies, it does not end in death. The hero has eternal life, and the prospect of ages of pain, in which to rise at long last to the destiny which he cannot escape. – Herman Wouk This is My God
Genesis & Exodus Genesis Story of creation, rebellion, universal flood, razing of the unrighteous (1-11); and a story of tribal fathers, conflicts between sons and fathers, and convenants with Yaweh (11-22). Exodus Story of the search for the promised land, the escape from Egypt, and the formation of a nation under God’s laws.
Influences Canaan/Palestine between Egypt and Mesopotamia. (e.g., flood, eternal life, laws) Stories of Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph) represent migration of Semitic tribes from Arabian peninsula into Fertile Crescent between BCE. –Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees ~1900 –Canaanite/Amorite tribes move to Egypt ~1700 –Come out of slavery in 13th cent. BCE, during rules of Seti and Ramses II.
Break into groups Using the texts as sources, answer the questions given to your group. You will have ~30 minutes. You will then have to report to the class your answers.
Question A Gilgamesh (& Enkidu), as well as Abraham, Moses and others in the Old Testament (assignment) are all considered “heroes”. Pick one “hero” from each text and then, using specific textual references, answer the following questions: 1.What is a hero? 2.In what way are the figures in each literature similar? 3.In what ways are they different? 4.What contemporary figures parallel these Epic and Old Testament heroes?
Question B Both the Epic of Gilgamesh and Genesis contain a Flood Story. Using specific textual references, answer the following questions regarding these stories: 1.In what way are the stories similar? 2.In what way are they unique/different? 3.What role does the Flood Story play in each text? (Is it the same, different?) 4.Are there any modern versions of the Flood Story that suggest interesting parallels?
Question C In both the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Old Testament (assignment) the relationship between humans and god(s) play a prominent role. Using specific textual references, answer the following questions: 1.In what way is the human-god(s) relationship in each text similar? 2.In what way is the relationship different? 3.How do the god(s) communicate with humans in each text? 4.What do the god(s) represent in each text?
Job A dialogue on the nature of God, divine justice, human suffering and obedience. Considered a masterpiece of literature.
Influences Dated from the 6th cent. BCE –Unique among “wisdom literature” because of its questioning of conventional wisdom. Babylonian captivity 586 BCE –Nebuchadrezzar II, King of Babylon destroys Jerusalem, takes 40,000 Jews. Compare Psalm 137 –Written after Babylonian captivity, c BCE.
Psalm 137 (KJV) By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth they little ones against the stones. (*539 BCE Cyrus the Great of Persia destroys Babylon; end of last Mesopotamian empire)
Psalm 137 Expresses the suffering, and injustice of the Hebrews while captive in Babylon. Also, the prophecy and hope for retribution: –“O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.” Represents conventional wisdom about a just God…
Justice in Job Conventional wisdom: –Goodness, piety, is rewarded with prosperity –Evil, blasphemy, is punished But, experience tells us differently –Goodness is not always rewarded –Evil often prospers
Justice in Job What does this mean for a just God? And, what does this mean for human suffering? Job explores these questions…
Plot Job introduced: pious, blameless man. God and Satan “wager” on Job’s piety. Job is deprived of prosperity, family, and health. (1-2) Job complains, cursing the day he was born. (3) His three companions (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) console him…
Several Solutions Offered Job suffers because he had done something wrong. (4-5) Job suffers because he has some inward fault not readily observable. Job suffers because we are all sinners (“original sin”) Job suffers because God has some purpose for his suffering (Elihu)
God speaks for Himself Job demands an answer from God (31) God replies…(38-42) –What is God’s answer to Job? –How does Job reply to God? –What happens in the end?
Questions What does the book of Job recommend to the faithful? To the suffering? –If God (and his law) is transcendent (beyond human understanding), how can humans be expected to follow? If God is indeed just, what kind of justice is this? What kind of piety is recommended? –Is justice = power? Is justice = fairness? –Is piety reasonable?Is it nothing but Fear? Is it irrational?
Points to Consider Consider Job’s answer to his wife (2.10) “…shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” What does this mean for conventional wisdom? Consider Chapter 9: “but how should man be just with God?” What is Job talking about here?
And More… Consider God’s reply “Will you ever put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?” (40.8) Explain. God rewards Job and reprimands his friends because, “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (42.7ff.) Does this mean God prefers questioning His justice? If so, how does this jive with God’s answer to Job?
Some Paper Topics Compare the Biblical and Gilgamesh versions of the flood story. What are the most striking similarities and differences? Explain using specific examples from both stories. What contemporary parallel sheds light on your comparison? Human suffering is a central theme in both the Hebrew Bible and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Compare Job and Gilgamesh as suffering heroes, as they search for understanding, and come to accept the limits of their human condition. Use specific examples from both stories to support and illustrate your ideas. Compare the story of “The Fall” in the Hebrew Bible with the episode in the Epic of Gilgamesh in which Enkidu becomes fully human. In both stories a woman is instrumental in the process of becoming fully human, endowing reason or knowledge in the process. What is the fate of those who have become fully human? Discuss the similarities and differences that reveal insights into the human condition. Use specific examples from both stories to support your ideas. Compare the nature of the gods/God as they are expressed in the Epic of Gilggamesh and the Hebrew Bible. If we assume, Mesopotamian gods predate the monotheism expressed in the Hebrew Bible, does this comparison show a type of “progress” in ideas about the divine? What about the degree of concern the gods/God have toward humans (all or a select few)? Use specific examples from both texts to support and illustrate your ideas. Discuss the fall of Babel, Sodom, and/or Babylon as examples of God’s justice. How does Job’s acquiescence to God provide an answer? It might be interesting to compare Job’s response with Jonah’s. Discuss the role of dreams or the role of women in the asigned texts from Genesis, Exodus or Job. How does it compare with other texts, including The Epic of Gilgamesh and the liad or Odyssey.