Tuesday, November 03, 2009
On Baal and Anat
Circa 1400 B.C.E. Six broken clay tablets in the Ugaritic language in cuneiform script, discovered in Syria in 1930-1933 by French archeologists.
The people of Ugarit told the stories of Baal and Anat to mourn the death of Baal at the end of the dry season and to celebrate his resurrection at the start of the rainy season, which compares to Ezek 8:14. In the stories, El and Baal are depicted much as the Bible portrays Yahweh, with the divine patrons of both Ugarit and Israel sharing many of the same titles (Psalms 68:5), with both battling seas and death (Psalms 29), and building temples and being seen as enthroned in the heavens (Isaiah 6:1, Daniel 7:9). The Ugararitic Ahirat appears in the Bible as Asherah, as do Yamm, Mot and Mt. Zaphon (Isaiah 14:13).
Stories include Anat’s celebration of the grape harvest with a bloody battle, with slaves preparing her for battle with cosmetics, a depiction of her as a lover, warrior and farmer; Baal’s complain to Anat that, with no sanctuary of his own, he has to lie in the House of El; Yamm the Sea’s and Nahar the River’s questioning of Baal’s right to a sanctuary and then warring with Baal, whose storms bring rain while Yamm and Nahar’s floods destroy life; Baal’s defeat of Yamm and the Holy Ones’ proclamation of him as ruler of the divine assembly; and Baal’s tricking of Death by feeding Mot his own brothers after Mot threatens to consume humanity.
So what? To me, these stories cause the lore of ancient Israel to resonate with cultural authenticity. That the various people of the region had comparable concepts of gods, although different names, indicates similar world views despite different political circumstances. God, as we know God, was given credit or blame for many of the same things Israel’s neighbors credited or blamed their gods for.
The worship of God or Godess goes back at least 35,000 years. One temple complex found from 15,000 years ago are elborate constructions built one on top of another and covering a time squence of 3000 years of worship at that one location. All of this 7000 years before Egypt built a single temple.
Were these "false gods" that were being worshiped? Did God only become God when the proto-Hebrews first heard him?
What kind of foundation is beneath our belief today? How deep is it.
How far down to bedrock?
Does it go all the way down to the DNA?
Second, these Ugaritic tablets you describe are a treasure precisely because they tell the other side of the story. It's a different perspective, as it were, on similar events. It should also be noted that some of the ritual practices of the northern Kingdom of Israel (which disappeared in the 8th century BC; for three hundred years it was Judah that survived as a semi-independent entity) were borrowed from Baal-worshipers - which was part of the problem the prophets had with them.
Some contemporary Jewish thinkers believe that this tension between cultic purity and assimilation is as old as the religion itself. It gets played out in a variety of ways in Biblical accounts, and any dispassionate reading of Jewish history shows that there is always a desire to conform to the religious and social norms of whatever society the people share.
Yet, leaving the texts of the Bible in their own time doesn't complete the interpretive process. How do we take all this information and make it relevant? The earliest Hebrew writings are comfortable with the reality of other beings of near-equal stature to their own God. How do we appropriate this notion for a largely secular age?
GKS ask how we can "appropriate" for "a largely secular age" the lessons that "the earliest Hebrew writings are comfortable with the reality of other beings of near-equal stature to their own God."
Lévi-Strauss, who almost singlehandedly revealed that so-called "primitive" cultures pursued objective knowledge with the same passion as "moderns," but with vastly different narratives of life, worried obsessively with the growing hegemonic "monoculture" - a "mass civilization" of one story and one story only.
We can ask whether a notion of god rather necessitates a multi-narrative of understanding by human beings. If we have one story only, then, surely, the subject cannot be anywhere near a cosmic god. Totality is a prison, not a victory (despite my appreciation for Marx's use of the word).
The godhead is a Trinity, first, a plurality prior to a unity. It seems to me that the context of cultic Israelite texts participates in reflecting this truth of God, and thus, the truth, still, of human communities: diversity is nearer to divinity than homogeneity.
Then again, this is an Eastern Christian notion which answers GKS and comprehends Baal and Anat. How can we trust it?
On the other hand, a plurality of narratives is also a good way to keep ourselves, and our claims, humble. Even the insistence that the God we worship is the Creator has to be made less as a description of the way the Universe is set up and more about our relationship to God; which is one reason I find creationism so absurd.
In the first instance, to return to the original question, the issue is about a multiplicity of perceived Gods, not a question of narratives. One can argue the chicken/egg nature - or perhaps if I am merely restating the issue differently - but to me, changing the question from one of competing gods to one of competing narratives merely avoids the issue. The question of God, in this instance, becomes one that, in the end, leaves me very much in a kind of post-modern-Luther-at-Worms position, here I stand as it were. I am quite happy to be in that position, as precarious as it may be. Standing on the blade of a sword over the only real abyss that counts may leave me with bloody feet, but the choice really isn't a choice when looked at this way.
Ultimately for faith, one cannot get behind one's narrative.
The god we perceive is the god we can narrate.
Other than that, there is mysticism. But even mysticism gets narrated in time. It's the only way we make sense of things for ourselves. And we do it best when we acknowledge un-totalized remainders which keep reflection, and thus self-criticism open.
“The final volume [of Mythologiques] ends by suggesting that the logic of mythology is so powerful that myths almost have a life independent from the peoples who tell them. In his view, they speak through the medium of humanity and become, in turn, the tools with which humanity comes to terms with the world’s greatest mystery: the possibility of not being, the burden of mortality."
to get an idea how convoluted the name Baal becomes.
Baal in one context was the Son of El the over all God, and as such ruled over all of the gods in the sacred mountain.
Anat/Anath has the same inter-linage usage problem. She shows up in the old testament as Ashera, the Goddess worshiped by many of the Canaanite wives of the Hebrew men.
There was effectively a dual religious environment during that era one for males (Yahweh) and one for females (Ashera).
I have the issue of the Mag. around somewhere, if you want to see the whole article.
Maybe that's how Soul is, only One God in everyone for all time. No sex or race or whatever in the Kingdom of Heaven, just One.
Hey, if you hav3n't downloaded Scott Adams's free book, "God's Debris," and read it, do it! It is germane to this line of thinking!