We were met this week with a veritable feast of interesting and remarkable material. It would not be difficult for me to spend the greater part of the day discussing this week’s readings, though I will resist. We concluded this week the Hittite archival documents (see here for Brook Lester’s “parting gift”) and were introduced to some Hebrew letters from Lachish. The importance of these letters should not be overlooked. According to the translator:
From the perspective of the history of discovery, the Lachish inscriptions were the first cohesive body of original texts from the pre-exilic period in Hebrew and they were therefore very important in providing data on all aspects of the Hebrew of that period: palaeography, grammar, rhetoric, and, specifically, epistolary usages (COS 3.42).
The center columns are filled with cross references, not to mention a number of substantial footnotes of significance, though I choose not to focus on them today. One particularly interesting line in one of the letters reads, “As Yahweh lives, no one has ever tried to read me a letter! Moreover, whenever any letter comes to me and I have read it, I can repeat it down to the smallest detail” (3.42b). This is a particularly interesting statement because it provides a small window into our understanding of the oral nature of Israel’s culture. No doubt this individual represents an extraordinary capacity for memorization, but this demonstrates how the ability to recall material “down to the smallest detail” was something valued or cherished. Furthermore, this letter speaks of another letter being sent along with it, a letter “from the prophet.” This helps to establish that literary prophets (i.e. prophets who write) are not unprecedented in Israel (though there is discussion in a footnote as to whether the prophet originally penned this letter or received it. That these letters are contemporaneous with the period in which the prophet Jeremiah was active has led to some interesting speculation, but the translator moderates: “The identification of the prophet with Jeremiah which so sorely tempted many of the early commentators of this text is purely speculative, but the possible allusion to conflict between prophet and royal authority is reminiscent of Jeremiah’s career, as would be the existence of an official who sided discreetly with the prophet” (3.42b, f.14).
We also returned to reading some Egyptian cosmologies, my favorite of which being the Coffin Texts Spell 261 (1.11). In this text, we have the first person account of creation from the abstract quality of Magic, a quality that preceded the evolution of the world from the one of Atum to the multiplicity of the world. If this sounds even remotely familiar, it is because the book of Proverbs contains creation account from the first person account of Wisdom, who also preceded the creation of everything YHWH would create. Magic says, “I am the one whom the Sole Lord made, before two things had evolved in this world” (1.11). Wisdom says, “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth” (Pro 8:22-23). It is interesting that for Magic, his preeminent position in the cosmos becomes a cause for veneration–“Become still for me! Bow down to me!–while Wisdom uses her preeminent position to persuade the foolish to follow her–“And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways” (Pro 8:32).
20th – From a Ramesside Stela; Lachish 6: Reactions to Forwarded Correspondence (1.13; 3.42E)
21st – From the Berlin “Hymn to Ptah”; Lachish 9: Requests (1.14; 3.42F)
22nd – From the “Memphite Theology”; Arad 1: Order for Allotment of Supplies (1.15; 3.43A)
23rd – From Papyrus Leiden; Arad 2: Order for Allotment of Supplies (1.16; 3.43B)
24th – From Coffin Texts Spell 1130; Arad 3: Order for Allotment of Supplies (1.17; 3.43C)
25th – Book of the Dead “Rebellion, Death and Apocalypse”; 175; Arad 4: Order for Allotment of Supplies (1.18; 3.43D)
26th – Coffin Text 157 “Cultic Abonimnation of the Pig”; Arad 5: Order for Allotment of Supplies Plus a Possible Mention of Tithe (1.19; 3.43E)