1. I read Thorkild Jacobsen’s “The Graven Image” in Ancient Israelite Religion. Jacobsen discusses the sorts of issues that are in my post, Did Second Isaiah Misunderstand Idolatry?; Greek Sodom and Gomorrah Story (which is not to say that he cites me, for he wrote his essay before there even was an Internet): ancient Near Eastern texts equate the god with the statue, yet they mean that the god inhabited the statue. It’s like the process of transubstantiation during mass. Catholics believe that the wafer becomes Jesus; similarly, ancient Near Easterners thought their idol became the god it represents.
I was a little thrown by this statement that Jacobsen makes on page 28: In sum, then, the ritual has turned the clock back, thus nullifying all human work, and has prepared for a birth in heaven of the god in question by sympathetic magic on earth. It greets the newborn god the next morning, entreats him to come down from heaven, and escorts him to his temple, where he is enthroned.
Jacobsen is referring to texts from the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods, which encompass the first half of the first millennium B.C.E. The texts describe the creation and animation of an idol. Is Jacobsen saying that a god is born in heaven whenever an idol is made? That would make little sense, for Marduk was said to have created the heavens and the earth, so he was around before idols. Or is Jacobsen saying that the ritual commemorates the birth of the god, since he says that it has “turned the clock back”?
2. I read Matitiahu Tsevat’s “Hagar and the Birth of Ishmael” in The Meaning of the Book of Job and Other Studies. On pages 69-70, Tsevat draws a parallel between God paying heed to Hagar’s abuse by Sarah in Genesis 16, and God’s recognition of the Israelites’ suffering at the hands of Egypt in Exodus. The irony is that Hagar was an Egyptian. Sarah, a Hebrew, oppressed Hagar, an Egyptian slave-girl. Later, the Egyptians oppressed the Hebrew slaves.
At one of the graduate schools that I attended, a professor of mine pointed that out, but I wasn’t sure where she was going with it. I was hoping for a deep theological point, but she just told me it was a literary device. The lesson Tsevat draws from it is that God has compassion on all of his creatures (Psalm 145:9), Jew and Gentile. I wondered if the lesson was “What goes around, comes around.”
The story of Hagar has long been meaningful to me. Here was a woman who was mistreated by God’s church at the time, Abraham and Sarah. She was an outsider. Hagar’s bad experience was partly her fault, for she was looking at Sarah with contempt because she (Hagar) could conceive and Sarah could not, but that may have been Hagar’s attempt as a powerless person to exert some power, for once in her life. But God took notice of Hagar and promised to bless her offspring. (This is important, according to Tsevat, because, under ancient Near Eastern law, Hagar’s son belonged to Sarah, since Hagar bore him for Sarah; yet, the Bible says Ishmael is Hagar’s!) Hagar was outside of God’s trajectory of promise, for God’s plans were for Isaac’s offspring. But God took notice of this outsider. He told her to return to Sarah, and she did so, only not as a powerless slave. She was a person God had seen, someone armed with the realization that God had a plan for her life.