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Predicting the Past in the Ancient Near East: Mantic Historiography in Ancient Mesopotamia, Judah, and the Mediterranean World.

Predicting the Past in the Ancient Near East: Mantic Historiography in Ancient Mesopotamia, Judah, and the Mediterranean World. By MATTHEW NEUJAHR. Brown Judaic Studies, vol. 354. Providence: Brown Judaic Studies, 2012. Pp. xv + 300. $64.95. [Distributed by Society of Biblical Literature]

Predicting the Past began as a doctoral dissertation at Yale University under the guidance of John Collins. The focus of Neujahr's study is the use of vaticinium ex eventu in the ancient Near East. His research covers texts from the end of the second millennium B.C. until the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. These begin with the Akkadian texts which he identifies as ex eventu compositions, though others have referred to them as naru literature (Giiterbock), prophecies (Lambert and Grayson), apocalypses (Hallo), literary predictive texts (de Jong Ellis), or autobiographies with prophetic endings (Longman). He reviews these genre labels and tinds them wanting, preferring instead to refer to them as Akkadian ex eventu texts. He recognizes that these texts are associated with Mesopotamian mantic literature.

He presents the most extensive discussions of each of these Akkadian texts (Text A, Uruk Prophecy, Marduk Prophecy, Shulgi Prophecy, and the Dynastic Prophecy) since my Fictional Akkadian Autobiography (Eisenbrauns, 1993). In particular, he is at pains to point out the "historical location" (p. 118) of each of these texts as well as their function. He disagrees that these five texts constitute a single genre. He notes, for instance, that it is only the Marduk and Shulgi texts that are clearly first-person. He disputes my attempt to find hints of first-person speech in some of the broken beginnings as too speculative (though on pp. 20-21 in his discussion of Text A he allows that the broken 1. 4 of side one, column I, which ends with the signs -zu-nim-ma, suggests that it too might have had a first-person introduction). He believes that these five texts are united only by their use of ex eventu prophecy, and much of his book seeks to compare them to other examples from the broader Mediterranean world, particularly Judah.

As he does so, he clearly lays out his threefold purpose: "(1) on the simplest level, to demonstrate the tenuous connection between Judean apocalypses and the Akkadian ex eventu texts on questions of formal dependence; (2) to clarify the use of ex eventu prediction in texts produced by late Second Temple Judean scribes; and (3) to fully situate the Akkadian ex eventu texts within their greater Near Eastern milieu as part of a literary phenomenon wedding mantic and historiography practice that emerged multiple times in differing cultural contexts" (p. 118).

In terms of the first point, he challenges previous scholars like Grayson, Hallo, and Lambert in their attempt to see direct influence on the writing of texts like Daniel (2, 7, 8, 9, 10-12), 1 Enoch, etc. He allows that perhaps there is a connection with their use of ex eventu prophecy. He just sees too many differences to allow for a closer influence. He is at great pains to dispute the point that "Daniel [and the other texts he treats in the book] is somehow indebted to the Akkadian ex eventu texts" (p. 134).

One can certainly grant to Neujahr that the evidence does not lead to the conclusion that they are all exactly one type of text. On the other hand, one does not have to prove that they are exactly similar in every way to recognize some kind of generic similarity, which does not depend on a later author being aware of or influenced by the earlier literature. It may be, for instance, that the author of the biblical book of Lamentations had no clue about the existence of the earlier city lament literature from Sumer. But the similarities (and there are differences as well) are still illuminating to our reading of the biblical book, and there are examples of the genre between the end of the second millennium and the sixth century B.C.

In terms of his second purpose, he does an excellent job providing full analyses of the issue of ex eventu prediction in Daniel, 1 Enoch, certain Dead Sea Scrolls (Pseudo-Daniel, 4QJeremiah, the Ezekiel Pseudepigrapha, the Damascus Document, certain Pesharim, 11QMelchizedek), and also the Sibylline Oracles (written by Hellenized Jews, far from Jerusalem).

In terms of his third purpose, while he does not admit a generic similarity or literary influence between the Akkadian texts and Daniel and the other compositions that he treats, he does see that they all "can be described as mantic compositions that have consciously mined historiographic material to manufacture audience trust for the oracles contained in the individual books" (p. 150). Fair enough, but one might, with a flexible enough definition of genre as a grouping of texts sharing similar formal and/ or content features irrespective of direct literary influence, call this a genre.

Indeed, Neujahr goes on to say that the merger of mantic and historiographic material shared by the Akkadian texts and Judean texts like Daniel and 1 Enoch arises out of a similar sociological setting, namely native populations challenging outside oppressors (p. 150). In spite of these similarities, he also highlights ideological differences between the Akkadian and Judean texts (see pp. 247-49). First, they utilize numbers differently, the Judean texts preferring schematic numbers while the Akkadian texts use numbers out of the historiographic tradition. Second, the Akkadian texts have what might be considered a more positive view of kingship, presenting a "native legitimate dynast who will establish an unquestioned, universal rule" (p. 248), in contrast to, say, Daniel, which culminates not with human kingship but with the kingdom of God. And then finally, he points out the lack of an "eschatological worldview" in the Akkadian texts (p. 248) like that in Daniel and 1 Enoch.

Neujahr should be commended for providing a discussion of his view of genre (see chapter 3: "The Genre Problem: Ancient Contexts and Modern Categories") from a theoretical perspective, though I wonder whether this discussion could have been even more strategically placed before chapter 2. He is drawn to the views of Todorov and Genette and rightly understands that we who deal with ancient texts must work with etic (from outside the culture) rather than emic (native) categories. Personally, I think he errs by working with just "elements of form and structure" (p. 82) rather than also including thematic similarities.

In any case, though one might dispute some of his conclusions, Neujahr's study of ex eventu prediction and of texts that wed mantic and historiographic literature is an extremely important one that all future researchers will have to take into account.


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Author:Longman, Tremper, III
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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