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Divination, Politics & Ancient Near Eastern Empires.

Divination, Politics & Ancient Near Eastern Empires. Edited by ALAN LENZI and JONATHAN STOKL. Ancient Near East Monographs, vol. 7. Atlanta: SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE, 2014. Pp. x + 209, illus. (paper). $29.95.

This volume probes the multivalent ways that divinatory texts from the ancient Levant both bolster and undermine the empires that produced them. Spanning the fields of Assyriology, Hebrew Bible, and Dead Sea Scrolls, the book underscores how prophetie communication serves as a vehicle for resistance to power or support of authority. Several articles represent revised versions of papers delivered at the 2011 SBL session of the "Prophetie Texts in Their Ancient Contexts" group on the topic "Divination, Propaganda, and Empire." Each essay addresses a specifie historical or literary issue that reflects how imperial settings shape and are shaped by divination.

The first two articles focus on cosmology and politics of the first millennium B.C.E. Jeffrey L. Cooley introduces the lens of propaganda studies to analyze references to celestial divination within the corpus of Assyrian royal inscriptions. Cooley examines the influence of literate intelligentsia on Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions since they understood the visual, ritual, and textual symbols which Esarhaddon adopted to promote his political agenda. Beate Pongratz-Leisten investigates how ancient Near Eastern rulers "appropriated divination as a System of thought for their ideological self-representation" (p. 38). Through attention to divinatory sources and royal inscriptions, Pongratz-Leisten documents the ways in which kingship utilized divination for ideological reasons. She asserts that references to kingship in omen compendia and liver reports link the authority of the royal office to the cosmic order.

The subsequent two essays employ comparative-historical analysis to demonstrate how biblical and Mesopotamian governance was legitimized by divination. In his study of divination across borders, Jonathan Stokl analyzes the international politics refracted through Mari letters concerning Aleppo, and 2 Kings 23 (2 Chronicles 35) and 2 Kings 18-19 (Isaiah 37-39), where foreign deities claim authority over foreign territories. He compares the structure of communication in the Levant to the Roman evocatio rite, when the Romans invoked the protection of a local deity who had abandoned his city. Alan Lenzi reexamines the question of open communication of prophecy and divinely transmitted knowledge connected to ritual. Lenzi argues that most Mesopotamian prophetic oracles were partially public, similar to open pronouncements of biblical oracles. His study seeks to explain the effect of public knowledge about ritual on the changing nature of biblical prophecy in the eighth century b.c.e.

Literary and theological representations of empire frame the next three articles on the Bible's prophetic books. C. A. Strine's essay re-positions the narrative of Yahweh's conflict with Gog and Magog against the backdrop of Neo-Babylonian ideology. Strine maintains that Ezekiel 38-39 embodies resistance to empire by exhibiting familiarity with Neo-Babylonian motifs, such as the Chaoskampf, which counters the political reality of the Judean exiles. Gbren Eidevall complements the initial essay by Cooley on the role of propaganda studies, and considers propaganda within Isaiah. He investigates the extent to which the book upholds the Assyrian, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Persian empires that dominated Judah. Of particular import is the application of H. Bhabha's postcolonial language of "mimicry and mockery" to contextualize various Isaianic passages that serve as literary reactions to imperialism. Joseph Blenkinsopp likens Cyrus to a Davidic figure who supersedes the Judean monarchs to become the divinely selected ruler. Blenkinsopp traces literary allusions to Cyrus throughout Deutero-Isaiah but grounds his comparison in Isa. 55:1-5, the one passage that refers to David by name.

The final two essays expose the imperial contexts of ancient Yehud and the community at Qumran. Ehud Ben Zvi evaluates the form of prophet books that were conceivably read and updated by a small group of literati in the Second Temple period. He argues that the appropriation and rereading of these books revealed how "the imperial context of the community was intertwined with processes of social memory formation and re-formation" (p. 149). Alex P. Jassen examines the role that perspectives of prophecy play on the identity of the sectarian group at Qumran. Jassen explores how the claim of false prophecy is used as a tool to delegitimize the Pharisees and Hasmoneans. He demonstrates how opponents are identified as false prophets, a label which serves rhetorically to undermine their link to the chain of classical prophecy, and thereby elevates the disempowered community.

The time frame represented across these articles is wide ranging, from Mari and the Neo-Assyrian Empire to the Hebrew Bible and Dead Sea Scrolls. Apart from an introduction, there appears to be no organizational schema to the volume. The editors argue that "the common goal is to understand how 'empire' influenced prophetic and divinatory communication" (p. 5). However, not all the contexts addressed in this volume entail empires, a term explained in Ben Zvi's article (pp. 147-48). While divination was pivotal to Old Babylonian international politics, Mari was not an empire and the complex system of collaborative governance at Mari contrasts with the imperial realities of Assyria and Babylonia. The analysis of each case requires its own consideration of the political category of empire. Overall, the volume marks a significant advance in the interdisciplinary study of prophetic communication that sustained or challenged the status quo.

Julie B. Deluty

New York University
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Author:Deluty, Julie B.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2017
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