Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Quote of the Day: The Death of Death in the "Baal Cycle"

First things first, this is my 100th posting ever! It only took me about 13 months of blogging to get here, but today is that great milestone!

For that milestone, I would like to give a quote of the day from the Baal Cycle:
She [Anat] seizes Divine Mot (Death),
With a sword she splits him
With a sieve she winnows him.

With a fire shes burns him.
With millstones she grinds him,
In a field she sows him.

The birds eat his flesh,
Fowl devour his parts,
Flesh to flesh cries out.
Baal Cycle, 6.2.30-37.

The Baal Cycle, sometimes called the Baal Epic, is basically about the Kingship of the Canaanite God Baal. It consists of six tablets that were inscribed around 1400-1350 BCE in the ancient city of Ugarit. The six tablets depict Baal's struggles to establish his kingship over the universe. The first two tablets depict his defeat of the Sea (Yamm), providing the counterpart to the Enuma Elish, in which Marduk establishes his authority by defeating the Sea (Tiamat). The differences are that Baal has help from the warrior-goddess Anat, whereas Marduk acted alone. Moreover, in the Ugaritic version, the sea is male and in the Enuma Elish Tiamat is female. Although, one should note that at the beginning of the Enuma Elish, Ea (Marduk's father) defeats the male waters (Apsu). The next two tablets depict Baal's acquisition of a "house" (his palace/temple) and a throne as his resting-place (again, this is similar to Enuma Elish). Again, Anat is instrumental in getting Baal his palace/temple and throne, the marks of his kingship. The final two tablets depict Baal's confrontation with Mot (Death). Mot actually defeats Baal--in fact, eats him. Anat, again, comes to the rescue--in the lines quoted above, she saves Baal by defeating death--the death of death, using the language of winnowing, sowing, and grinding grain. The return of rain, the yearly agricultural phenomenon of the rising grain, is the death of death.

Interestingly enough, Revelation 21 has this same pattern: Death of the Sea, the descent of the heavenly city (like Baal's palace), and the death of Death.

Moreover, the use of agricultural metaphors for the defeat of death, or resurrection, shows up in 1 Cor. 15. Paul writes:
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body." (1 Cor. 15:42-44).
The passage culminates in exclamation:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
Much of Paul's argument about the redeeming aspect of Jesus' resurrection is that through resurrection, he has conquered death. Death has died. Christians then participate in Jesus' victory over death, which coincides with his victory over sin (since sin is death).

Such patterns of mythical thinking found as early as the Baal Cycle, which coincides with annual agricultural patterns, reemerges in ever-new contexts among Jews and Christians. I always find it fun to see where such patterns of thought from the furthest reaches of antiquity find new articulations through the ages. In fact, my dissertation works with some of these extremely ancient patterns that manage to survive in new formulations....

1 comment:

w said...

Yay!! Happy 100th post!! It's a cool one too! I didn't know that stuff! :)