Thursday, February 12, 2015

Critical Chapter review of Divinization and Omens

Chapter review of Divinization and Omens[1]
In chapter 6 of John Walton’s book, “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament,” he expounds on the concept of divinization and omens within the ancient Near Eastern culture. In contrast to today’s secular western culture, the people of the ancient near east would have had no concept of a separation of church or state within their world view (239). Rather, the sacred was an integral part of their day to day life (239).  This is most likely a result of the fact that divinization and omens played an epistemological role that was a handbook or “Guide for life” (239-240). Walton breaks down both divinization and omens down by type, practitioners and function.
Walton breaks down divinization into two forms - inspired and deductive.  Inspired divinization is where the divine entity takes the initiative to establish communication with its people through a messenger (like a prophet) or a dream (240). Moreover, Walton   divides divinizations between official prophecy and informal prophecy (240-241).  Official prophecy is where a professionally trained prophet or messenger relays a message and in many cases, served under the “sponsorship” of a king. Meanwhile, informal prophecy was more “spontaneous and occasional” (240). Unlike official prophecy whose recipient was a king, informal prophecy was addressed to commoners. In many cases, informal prophecy was experienced through the medium of dreams. Walton explains that dreams were predominantly spontaneous. With exceptions, kings and others with power at times would sleep in “sacred” places with the goal of receiving a dream from their god (241); yet “the majority of dreams … simply came to people in the normal course of their lives” (242). Walton also makes it clear that even though many of these dreamers were not communicating with any gods, they still believed that the “gods were communicating through the symbols” within the dreams (242).
At the end of the day, the inspired divinization’s cognitive environments’ main function was not to know the gods or even the future (244). Rather, prophecies were used to bolster a theological argument for the divine right of the king to rule as he saw fit. Furthermore, dreams caused many people to seek out interpretations of them, for fear of their deity’s punishment for neglecting the dream.
Next Walton explains deductive divinization. Like inspired divinization, it is “initiated from the divine realm” (249). The difference is that the divine communication is perceived through observable “events and phenomena” (249). Deductive divinization’s cognitive environment function through what Walton calls connectiveness, control and speculative observations (249 -254). First, connectiveness is the idea that the gods communicate through patterns or symbols. These patterns would be understood as the writings of the gods and the symbols/omens were just a form of divine “alphabet” and “vocabulary” (249). The second cognitive environment, control, is the idea that these signs were meant to be interpreted to help those who could interpret them so they could “exercise some…control over the events swirling around them” (254).  Now this created a culture of speculation based on observations of the symbols/omens (254).  According to Walton there are two types of omen approaches, active and passive. Then, Walton lists the practitioners: Baru, Tupsarru, Muhhu, and Apilu(264-263).
Next, Walton show how magic links magic is directly linked to the concept of divinization. As he explains divinization is about gaining knowledge, while magic is about “exercising power” over spiritual forces to enable positive or negative outcomes for individuals (264-265). Magic practitioners would use incantations and rituals to destroy the “connective thread” that bound an individual to evil spirits (265).
In conclusion, Walton explains reiterates that divinization was about getting a “glimpse” of the gods and their will through the patterns of signs (267). One must realize though that the function was not about predicting the future. Instead the function of divinization was used for legitimization, action and warning.  For example, it was used to prop up kings as being the divinely chosen ruler. Furthermore, it conveyed action because it caused kings to rule as if their choices were done on the divine entities behalf or will. Then, the warnings were more about causing people to change their ways to prevent the predicted judgment. Walton explains that divinization was not about certainty but rather to a provisional of guidelines or directions for how one should chose to live their life (269-270).  Then, Walton shows the sheer contrast the Ancient near east ideas on prophecy compared to Deuteronomy 18:20-22. First, Israel was to know the words Yahweh did not say (270). Second, unlike the diviners and their gods Yahweh did not want his people to be afraid of Him (270).
            Walton makes several good arguments. First, I agree with him that the main function was about legitimization of the king. His point is bolstered by the fact that the king’s prophets would have been sponsored by the king and on the king’s payroll (240). This conflict of interest also is exasperated by the fact that kings could use the prophecies to their advantage by claiming “that the Gods had put the king on the throne and supported his policies and activities” (268). Second, I thought it was very insightful when Walton explained that the divinization prophets played upon the “fears and aspirations of the people of Mesopotamia” (269). His best support was the fact that people would be seeking out dream interpreters to find out the will of the gods rather than miss out and have something bad happen to them (244). Thus it is logical for people to seek out these practitioners to help them find some form of control to enable these people who seemed to live in fear with a form of “psychological relief”(254).
Finally, I thought the comparison of Yahweh to the divinization prophets was correct. First, the fact that God’s people were to know when he was spoken and not spoken. Second, the fact is that the people of God did not have to live in fear of God other than His “oracles of Judgment” (270).

[1] Top of Form
Walton, John. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Pub. Group, 2006.
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