UPenn Dissertation: The Splintered Divine

In gathering some recent research related to my thesis and some book reviews I’m doing, I just came across a thesis that looks fascinating. It’s from UPenn and was defended this year. The author is Spencer L. Allen and the title is “The Splintered Divine: A Study of Ištar, Baal, and Yahweh Divine Names and Divine Multiplicity in the Ancient Near East.” Here is the abstract:

This dissertation examines ancient conceptions of Near Eastern deities whose names consistently included geographic epithets, which functioned like last names. In Neo-Assyrian (ca. 900-630 B.C.E.) texts, Ištar-of-Nineveh and Ištar-of-Arbela are often included as divine witnesses or enforcers of curses along with several other deities whose names lack any geographic epithets. Similarly, in second-millennium Ugaritic texts, Baal-of-Ugarit and Baal-of-Aleppo received separate offerings in cultic rituals along with several other deities whose names lack geographic epithets, and in first-millennium Aramaic, Phoenician, and Punic texts, Baal-of-Ṣapān, Baal-of-Šamêm, and several other Baal-named deities are contrasted with each other in the same way that they are contrasted with other deities. The exploration of these Ištar and Baal divine names as first names suggests that the scribes of the ancient Near East considered each Ištar and Baal who was explicitly associated with a unique geographic last name to be a unique deity. In fact, the geographic epithets that follow the divine names should be viewed as an essential part of these deities’ names. Neo-Assyrian scribes thought of Ištar-of-Nineveh as distinct from Ištar-of-Arbela just as they thought of her as distinct from any other deity whose name was not Ištar. Likewise Ugaritic, Aramaic, Phoenician, and Punic scribes thought of Baal-of-Ṣapān as distinct from Baal-of-Aleppo and any other Baal-named deity just as they thought of him as distinct from any other deity whose name was not Baal. These analyses are pertinent to biblical studies because inscriptions from the eastern Sinai (ca. 800 B.C.E.) invoke a Yahweh-of-Samaria and a Yahweh-of-Teman in blessings. Unlike, the Ištar and Baal divine names that are contrasted with each other in the same texts, however, these two Yahweh divine names do not appear together in the same texts and were not necessarily contrasted with each other. For this reason, it could not be determined whether or not Israelites who encountered the Yahweh-named deities recognized them as distinct and independent deities. They might have known the names Yahweh-of-Samaria and Yahweh-of-Teman, but there is nothing in the inscriptional or biblical evidence to suggest that they necessarily thought of these as different Yahwehs.

The question of the relationship of local manifestations of Yahweh to the Shema is definitely an important one to my thesis, but I’m also interested in the way ideas about the transference of divine agency played out in Mesopotamian and Syro-Palestinian thought. This thesis looks to address both issues at length.


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