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Created EqualHow the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought$
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Joshua A. Berman

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195374704

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195374704.001.0001

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 Egalitarian Theology

 Egalitarian Theology

The Commoner's Upgrade from King's Servant to Servant King

Chapter:
(p.15) 1 Egalitarian Theology
Source:
Created Equal
Author(s):

Joshua A. Berman (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195374704.003.0002

This chapter contains the argument that drives the rest of the book. The rejection of hierarchy is rooted in a major theological shift. Social and political hierarchy in the ancient Near East received metaphysical legitimation, as the heavenly order was construed as paralleling the terrestrial one. The common person in this scheme emerges as a servant, the lowest rung in the hierarchy, as evidenced in Mesopotamian creation epics Atrahasis, and echoed in Egypt and Ugarit well. The theology of covenant in the Pentateuch rejects this. In light of parallels with Late Bronze Age suzerainty treaties, the covenant narratives implicitly suggest that the whole of Israel—not its king, not his retinue, not the priests—bears the status of a vassal king entered into treaty with a sovereign king, God. While much of this material has been extant in the scholarship for some fifty years, the material is examined here in new light, and from two directions. The first borrows observations from the field of anthropology concerning the role and display of honor between superiors and subordinates that offers new insight into the suzerain‐vassal paradigm for the relationship between God and Israel. The second is a revisiting of the Hittite treaties whose form and language are paralleled in the covenantal material in the Pentateuch. This study concludes that not only does Israel as a collective whole attain the status of a subordinate king, but that, indeed, hierarchy is eschewed as every man in Israel becomes endowed with this status as well. Parallels are drawn between the Israel as vassal paradigm, and Israel as spouse paradigm.

Keywords:   creation epics, Atrahasis, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Ugarit, suzerainty, treaty, vassal, covenant, Hittites

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