Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review
Alberto R. W. Green, The Storm-God in the Ancient Near East (Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San 8; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003). Pp. xviii + 363. Cloth, US$42.50. ISBN 1-57506-069-8.
In the volume under review, Alberto Green presents a comprehensive study of the storm-god and his function in the many societies of the ancient Near East. The storm-god has attracted significant attention from observers of the ancient Near East, but Green points out in his acknowledgements that no single work has fully explored this concept. With this book, he seeks to remedy this situation (the work under review joins another recent volume in its comprehensive treatment of the storm-god; see S. Schwemer, Die Wettergottgestalten Mesopotamiens und Nordsyriens im Zeitalter der Keilschriftkulturen [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2001]; reviewed by Scott Noegel in JHS volume 4).
After an excellent introduction, the author explores the topic in five exhaustive chapters. Chapters 1-4 survey the evidence for the storm-god within the different regions of the ancient Near East: Mesopotamia, the highlands of Anatolia, Syria, and coastal Canaan. Chapter 5 then offers a synthesis of the evidence and conclusions.
The two goals of this project are very well defined in the introduction. First, Green seeks to isolate the ideological and social functions of the storm-god and his attendants in each of the region’s cultural contexts. Second, he seeks to locate the intercultural connections among the ancient Near East’s storm-gods and to draw some conclusions about the function of this deity on a larger regional scale. The remainder of the introduction establishes the methodology used to examine the storm-god, and presents the different socio-cultural units that will be the focus of the investigation. Critical to his comprehensive approach to the topic is Green’s insistence on treating both the iconographic as well as the textual evidence. This is a study that closely examines both text and image, as well as the often complex relationship between them.
Throughout this study, Green also remains sensitive to the peculiarities of the different regions under investigation, in areas ranging from environment to language. For example, he notes of Mesopotamia on page 11 that, “The ecological and topographical differences between the hilly north and the flat riverine south were responsible for the development of different patterns of thought.” The careful effort to note such variation is valuable, as are some of his observations on the consequences of these differences. For example, the early emphasis in Anatolia on terrestrial rather than atmospheric storm-gods is explained in chapter 2 on the basis of the environmental realities of the Anatolian Plateau.
Ultimately, Green offers conclusions both about the role of the storm-god in ancient Near Eastern societies, and about the appearance of Yahweh as a storm-god. About the storm-god, he determines that this divinity was, “primarily responsible for three major areas of human concern: (1) the Storm-god as the ever present nucleus of religious power, that ever-dominant environmental force upon which peoples depended for their survival; (2) the Storm-god as the foundation of centralized political power; and (3) the Storm-god as the foundation of a continuously evolving sociocultural process, symbolically projected through his accompanying attendants” (p. 281). Though Green sees Yahweh as a storm-god, whose settling in Canaan displaced the traditional Canaanite storm-god, Baal, he also identifies a number of characteristics as being unique to Yahweh. He posits Yahweh, “as the only creator god of all that is created, Yahweh as a god who acts in history and not in mythology, and Yahweh as the only self-existing god, without the need of another” (p. 292).
To further his analysis, Green offers in the introduction a very broad definition of the storm-god that closely associates the storm-god with fertility. Therefore, “…this deity gradually evolved in the mythical realm as the presider over a pantheon of gods and within cultic and historical settings as the fearless warrior, the provider of sustenance for society, and the preserver of life” (p. 2). This is, however, a much broader definition for the storm-god than one usually encounters in discussions of the ancient Near Eastern pantheons. The author’s approach to storm-gods is hence more inclusive than is ordinarily the case, especially in his consideration of the Mesopotamian pantheon. Green examines not only the more traditional storm/weather gods of the ancient Near East, such as Ishkur, Adad, Itur-Mer, Teshub, and Baal, but also Enlil and Ninurta/Ningirsu. The latter gods are more commonly regarded as fertility, farming, and warrior deities with strong associations with royal authority. It is certainly the case, as Green points out, that Enlil’s power is occasionally equated in literature with the destructive force of the storm; but does this make him a storm-god? For Ninurta, the recent book by Amar Annus, The God Ninurta in the Mythology and Royal Ideology of Ancient Mesopotamia (SAAS XIV; Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2002), captures the more established consensus: “Ninurta is the defender of the divine world order; he is the god of warfare, agriculture, and wisdom” (p. 5). Green highlights Ninurta’s association with storm imagery, but as Annus point out, it was also Ninurta, in the poem Lugal-e, “who is depicted as the savior of the land from the threatening deluge” (p. 127) when he built a wall to keep the waters off of the fields.
Green’s expansive definition of the storm-god serves his overall thesis, and helps to buttress his conclusion. At the same time, this more inclusive approach is not adequately defended, nor is it carried out comprehensively. In his treatment of the different regions of the ancient Near East, Green adopts something of an evolutionary chronological approach that follows the conventional archaeological periodizations of the Near East, and anticipates his conclusions. Hence his treatment of Mesopotamia is largely confined to the third and early second millennia BCE (the Early Bronze Age and the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age), the highlands of Anatolia and Syria are largely examined in the second millennium BCE (the Middle and Late Bronze Ages), and his discussion of Coastal Canaan is confined to the late second millennium BCE (the Late Bronze Age and the early part of the Iron Age). These choices allow Green to present a progressive development of storm-god ideologies that culminates in the appearance of Yahweh. This also suggests that the regions outside of Canaan and Syria remained inherently static over the passage of time; however, throughout the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, the ideas and ideologies of Mesopotamia and Anatolia remained dynamic and continued to influence the regions around them. Some references are made to later Babylonian and Assyrian developments, but these developments are never fully examined. This is especially problematic when considered in light of some of Green’s conclusions. The unique characteristics that he identifies for Yahweh when compared with other Near Eastern storm-gods are certainly accurate, but fruitful comparisons could be made with other pre-eminent gods of the Near Eastern pantheons, most notably Marduk. Useful comparisons could also be made with the Egyptian pantheon and its influence on Canaanite religion. Green alludes to this on pages 229-30, but his exclusion of Egypt from his Near Eastern focus prevents him from pursuing this observation. One could certainly argue that for the Babylonians and the Egyptians respectively, Marduk and Amun were actors in history; and Marduk was clearly regarded as an archetypal creator god. These avenues, however, are left unexplored.
On the whole, this is a comprehensive and valuable treatment of an important topic. The author’s conclusions would be enhanced by a more thorough defense of his broad vision of the storm-god, as well as by a more critical review of recent work on the topic. The bibliography shows very little engagement with the scholarship of the last quarter century. An exception to this are the frequent citations of articles in J. Sasson, ed., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East (New York: Scribner’s, 1995) and these references highlight the value of this excellent reference work, but there are limitations to relying too heavily on these volumes without pursuing the extensive additional references that these articles often provide. This is especially the case for the discussion of Mesopotamia; numerous inconsistencies can be traced to a reliance on outdated sources, e.g., Shulgi’s son Amar-Sin is called Bur-Sin on page 26, but correctly identified on page 83. The reliance on older works detracts from the otherwise excellent presentation of the texts from Mesopotamia. The last few decades have witnessed a tremendous amount of scholarly work on Mesopotamian religion, and on the Sumerian and Akkadian literary corpora. Green has included references to B. Foster, Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature (CDL Press, 1993), and this is an excellent place to begin an examination of the Akkadian literature. For the Sumerian literature, the reader is referred to the translations and bibliography maintained on-line at the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (http://www-etcsl.orient.ox.ac.uk/).
Steven J. Garfinkle