Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Assyro-Babylonian Context for qoneh as "Begetter"

As I dig deeper into the participle qoneh in Gen 14:19, 22, I am more and more convinced that Bruce Vawter is partially correct in rejecting the translation "creator." I think the most accurate translation is "Begetter" (which Vawter does not support). Looking through Akkadian texts for parallel vernacular and ideas, I have run across quite a bit of information that supports my reading.

Vawter correctly states in his paper, "Yahweh, Lord of the Heavens and the Earth" (CBQ 48 [1986]: 465)that the Akkadian literature from Syria-Palestine does not contain a single use of qanû in a context that suggests creation (the same is true of Mesopotamian Akkadian literature). On the other hand, while the titles “Lord of Heaven and Earth” and “Lord of the Gods” are not uncommon in Akkadian, qanû appears in none of them. In fact, it appears in no divine epithets. This seems to have escaped Vawter’s consideration. The titles that do occur, however, indicate a procreative reading of qny fills a significant gap in the parallels to Assyro-Babylonian divine epithets that is left empty if that reading is rejected. As in early Syria-Palestine, theogony plays a central role in Mesopotamian literature. Several titles address the creation of heaven and earth as well as of other gods. In some epithets, and even some prose, the procreative aspect of this creation is explicit. Anu is described in one text as inseminating the heavens, which then gives birth to the earth. Marduk is called bān šamê u erṣeti, “Creator of Heaven and Earth” in CT 9, 6.1. Ea is pātiqu šamê u erṣetim, “Creator of Heaven and Earth” in KAR 252 and RS 3.39. Enlil is described as ālid ilāni rabûti, “Begetter of the Great Gods,” in KAR 25.3.32. In a parallel epithet, Ninlil is called bānīt ilāni rabûti, “Creatress of the Great Gods.” Elsewhere the participle bānû, “Creator,” appears directly parallel to the participle mu-al-lid, “Begetter.” In light of these parallels, it is clear that creation and procreation were often conceived of as synonyms. It also establishes the priority of a procreative reading of the Ugaritic qnyt ’lm, contra Vawter’s proposal that it be translated “Mistress of the Gods.” In the Syro-Palestinian or Assyro-Babylonian epithets there is no equivalent, of which I am aware, to Vawter’s reading, which is why he must appeal to the Egyptian title nbt pt to provide a parallel. If one accepts the procreative nuance of the Syro-Palestinian use of qny, the Assyrian literature provides numerous analogies. These theogonic epithets, combined with the prose mentioned above, support the head of the Near Eastern pantheon as begetter of deities named “Earth” and “Heaven.”

An additional relevant phrase is abi wa-li-di-ka, “the father who begot you,” which appears repeatedly in Akkadian literature. The parallel use of abu and the participle ālidu throws light on the phrase אביך קנך in Deut 32:6. Scholars have long recognized the procreative nuance to the verse, but rarely is that sense conveyed in the translation. “Your father who begot you” would be most appropriate. Vawter’s argument against this reading is untenable. He rejects the contextual influence of עשך and יכננך on the procreative reading of קנך, arguing rather that תגמלו provides a more immediate context in Israel’s failure to appropriately “repay” Yahweh. He argues we must understand what it is Yahweh did for Israel that merited repayment. He posits that vv. 8–9 provide the clearest answer in Yahweh’s inheritance of Israel. Nowhere does Vawter engage the word אביך, immediately parallel to קנך. He must mitigate the clear and immediate context with one that is broad and eisegetic.

This is some interesting summer research. Further updates to follow.

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