Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

de Hulster, Izaak J. and Rüdiger Schmitt, (eds.), Iconography and Biblical Studies: Proceedings of the Iconography Sessions at the Joint EABS / SBL Conference, 22–26 July 2007, Vienna, Austria (AOAT, 361; Münster: Ugarit, 2009). Pp. xii + 239. Hardcover. €84.00. ISBN 978-3-86835-018-0.

This volume contains papers read at the “Iconography and Biblical Studies“ session at the joint conference of the European Association of Biblical Studies and the Society of Biblical Literature, which took place in 2007 in Vienna. There are also several further contributions to make a total of eleven articles. The volume as a whole provide an overview of the wide field of iconography and its relevance for biblical studies.

In “The Tyskiewicz Seal Cylinder and the Relationship between Theology and Iconology” (pp. 1–19), Pernille Carstens (University of Copenhagen) interprets the Tyskiewicz cylinder seal from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts together with the Aydin seal and the seal AO 20138, both at the Louvre, Paris. She notes that first two seals derive from Anatolia or Syria as demonstrated by their shared graphemes. Carstens then provides detailed description and interpretation of the various scenes of the Tyskiewicz Seal, concluding that the cylinder seal is “an expression of blessing or shows the presence of the gods” (p. 5). It seems as if this conclusion is not meant as an either/or, but rather as a multi-layered statement on the seal's connotations. The central figure is Ea, who is depicted as a life-giving god receiving worship. Because the theme of blessing plays a central role in biblical conceptions of creation and as a guarantee of fertility (i.e., Hag; Ps 134:2–3; Deut 28:1–14), the Tyskiewicz Seal therefore provides insight into the imaginative background of the OT.

Izak Cornelius (University of Stellenbosch), in “The God of Job: Iconographical Perspectives after Keel” (pp. 21–33), provides a retrospective on Othmar Keel's study Jahwes Entgegnung an Ijob.[1] and adds several additional insights of his own. Cornelius concentrates on imagery pertaining to warrior motifs, storm god imagery, and Chaoskampf. He describes their appearance both in Job (but also in other biblical texts and ancient Near Eastern writings) and the iconography of the ancient Near East. Cornelius highlights the frequency with which the author of the Book of Job uses mythological themes present in the broader ancient Near Eastern culture for the characterization of the god responsible for Job's pain: this god acts like Resheph, attacking Job like a war god or a storm god.

Meindart Dijkstra (Utrecht University) presents a seal impression found during the excavation on Tall Zar'a, Jordan, in 2005 (“‘The Hind of the Dawn:’ On a Seal-Impression from Tall Zar'a (Jordan),” pp. 35–51). The impression is dated before Iron Age IIa, perhaps to Iron Age Ia. It depicts a horned animal, possibly a goat. The picture is almost symmetrical, making it difficult to decide which direction is the front. Dijkstra suggests that the impression could be interpreted as showing two horned animals looking (and maybe running) in opposite directions with a symbol above them. The legs shown in the middle could then belong to both animals. Dijkstra also identifies similar iconographic portrayals, but only from very early periods (Egyptian Pre-Dynastic Period and the Early Bronze Age). He concludes, however, that the portrayal is of a single caprine carrying a symbol on its back, possibly of a solar or astral nature. Prior to the Iron Age, animals on seals often represented related deities. If this tradition continued into the Iron Age, then this stamp seal impression could be related to a temple in Tell Zar'a. He postulates that it may have been used by the temple administration, which would then have produced and stamped its own pottery. Dijkstra concludes by considering whether the caprine could be identical with the “hind of dawn” in Ps 22:1, for which there may be a mythological background. In the end he rejects this possibility as an over interpretation of the evidence.

Maciej Münnich (the Catholic University of Lublin), in “Two Faces of Resheph in Egyptian Sources of the New Kingdom” (pp. 53–71), compares the iconographic and written traditions of the god Resheph in Egypt. Although the oldest extant mention of Resheph is from the 13th dynasty (in personal names of Asiatics, possibly Semitic servants), the cult came to Egypt during the reign of Amenophis II in the 18th dynasty. The most important attribute of the Resheph cult for Amenophis II was the aspect of war. In written sources of the period Resheph was identified with the Egyptian god of war, Montu. Although his iconographic presentations are badly damaged, it is clear that Resheph was depicted as a warrior. However, this picture of a fighting Resheph is also found in private stela that are void of any connection to war but instead focus on health and prosperity. Resheph seems to be regarded as a deity that is able to heal various sicknesses. From this evidence Münnich concludes that in private stela Resheph has been transformed from a warrior fighting hostile peoples to a “warrior” fighting the demons of illness.

In “The Iconography of Power: Israelite and Judean Royal Architecture as Icons of Power” (pp. 73–91), Rüdiger Schmitt (University of Münster) analyses the structures of the palace complexes at Megiddo (1723 stratum V and 338 stratum IV B), at Lachish (stratum III), at Samaria, and Tel Jezreel. He points out that these buildings emphasize the power of the rulers by being built on the highest places overlooking the cities. They also demonstrate the separation between the elite and the common people through the presence of walls with a single huge gate surrounding the palaces. Furthermore, the planned layout of the compounds (proportions are 1:1 or 2:1) symbolizes the cosmic order. A special detail of the architecture of these palaces are the proto-aeolic capitals located especially in entrances, gates, and balustrades. Following Keel and Uehlinger, Schmitt interprets them as symbols of life and regeneration and thus, by extension, the palace itself becomes a source of life for those entering through its gate. This close connection to fertility and prosperity is also visible in Ps 72. Two bn hmlk seals also support the interpretation of proto-aeolic capitals as symbols of the kingship itself. In his third section Schmitt argues that the iconographic program of the Samarian ivories as luxury goods depict an ideology of kingship wherein ensuring the fecundity of nature is paramount.

Thomas Staubli (University of Fribourg, CH) reflects on the origin of the theologoumenon “to place the name” in “‘Den Namen setzen:’ Namens- und Göttinnenstandarten in der Südlevante während der 18. ägyptischen Dynastie” (pp. 93–112), arguing for a connection between 18th Dynasty Egypt and Deuteronomistic theology. Under the reign of Thutmosis III, Egypt started an aggressive policy of setting the divine-royal name in Palestine. Although this happened by force, the setting of the name implied that the local rulers were not only ruled by, but also protected by the pharaoh (see the Amarna letters of 'Abdi-eba from Jerusalem). Pharaoh's power was represented iconographically, for instance, on two fragments of standards found at Hazor, that contain an anthropomorphic cartouche as a symbol of the divine-royal name placed between symbols of the goddess Hathor. This combination illustrates the close connection between the cult of Hathor and the one of the ruler. Staubli reconstructs the standards as having a form that a ruler could place one quickly and easily wherever he desired. While the symbol of the goddess represents the divine female, the name represents the divine male status of the pharaoh. This combination shows the divinity of the royal name, which on the one hand provides protection and on the other seeks adoration, is found in the Levant from Bronze Age on. However, it was not the content of the name that was important, but rather simply the fact that it was a name. The name became a sign in and of itself. As evidence for this interpretation Staubli points to the Anra seals (seal impressions found in Palestine with the progression of letters a - n - r - a), which show that the emphasis lay on the name itself. Staubli concludes that both the name on the Egyptian standards and the Deuteronomistic name theology should be understood in this manner.

Annette Weissenrieder (Universities of Heidelberg and Berkeley), in “The Crown of Thorns: Iconographic Approaches and the New Testament” (pp. 113–38), investigates the allusions connected to the Roman soldiers' use of this particular crown. While she also considers other scenes, Weissenrieder focuses mainly on coins depicting the heads of Roman emperors. From these comparisons she concludes that the crown of thorns has a certain multivalency arising from its use in various contexts. It is a sign of athletic victory, which in ancient times never implied individual victory but rather victory for the whole city or society. From the point of view of the soldiers, the crowning also suggests the acclamation of the emperors. It can also be seen as a reference to the laurel wreath, which signifies a divine nimbus.

In “Illuminating Images: A Historical Position and Method for Iconographic Exegesis” (pp. 139–62), Izaak de Hulster (University of Göttingen) attempts to outline an historical-iconographic method for textual exegesis. The intent is to explain biblical texts with the help of pictorial material, as the iconographic portrayals belong to the context of the texts' origins. To outline his own position de Hulster first presents two other approaches. The first is exemplified by Schroer and Keel in their project IPIAO. De Hulster characterizes this method as moving from pictures to texts but maintains that the links between picture and text are quite loose and, at times, unsupported leaps. He then reviews the approach taken by Brent Strawn. De Hulster characterizes it as moving from a specific theme found in a collection of biblical texts to archaeological evidence in Israel/Palestine (especially iconography) and to similar evidence in the ancient Near East to draw a conclusion on its significance. The difficulty with this approach, according to de Hulster, is the lack of method for finding specific representations of a primarily abstract theme. The definition of the theme supplied by the exegete strongly influences the result. In opposition to these approaches, de Hulster begins with a particular text that is delimited from its textual context through historical-criticism and other exegetical methods. The date and historical setting of the text are then determined. After this, only as a third step, can the text be related to pictorial material. Thus de Hulster concentrates on material that primarily illuminates the objects, the environment, or the actions mentioned in the text. Although de Hulster states that images not only provide information about things but also about how people experienced and understood the world, his approach seems to turn iconography into the illustration of texts. To study the iconographic material itself de Hulster recommends Panofsky's approach. De Hulster concludes his article with an example, namely showing how it applies to Isa 63:1–6.

Brent A. Strawn (Emory University) considers the expression of YHWH's “outstretched arm” in “Yahweh's Outstretched Arm Revisited Iconographically” (pp. 163–211). First he presents the textual evidence both in the biblical and in the Egyptian textual traditions (including  'Abdi-eba's letters). This leads to the question of why previous scholarship concludes, on the one hand, that the expression is Deuteronomistic and, on the other, regards it as influenced by the Egyptian theology of the New Kingdom. If the expression derives from the New Kingdom, why is it limited to Deuteronomistic literature and theology? And conversely, if it is initially Deuteronomistic, how can it have come from a period many centuries earlier? Strawn claims to find the missing link: although the iconographic tradition of the conquering arm of the pharaoh smiting an enemy is the most prominent display of an outstretched arm, it is not the primary source for YHWH's outstretched arm. The primary source is instead the rays of the sun of Aten. There are too many differences between the arm of the pharaoh and the outstretched arm of YHWH; most importantly, pharaoh holds a weapon, which is not stated of YHWH. In contrast to the conquering arm of the pharaoh, the outstretched arm of YHWH is not primarily connected to violence or destruction. When it does have this connection, it is made explicit by an additional remark in the text. Egyptian sources present the arm of a human being (pharaoh being at least partly human) and not of a god. Strawn claims that the iconography of the Amarna period fits much better than the New Kingdom arm of pharaoh. The rays of Aten appear as outstretched arms with hands at their ends. These arms are divine, and they are primarily focused on the provision of blessing. Even textual evidence from this period fits with the biblical sources. Is this similarity sufficient to support the purported link? As Strawn sees it, there is a strong congruence between the pictorial representation in the Amarna period and the textual representation in the biblical sources. The connecting theme is deliverance and the provision of life. To the objection that the Amarna period was short lived, Strawn answers that ideas of the Amarna period were transmitted even after the end of the Amarna period itself and were known in the surrounding regions of Egypt. In particular, Aten remained the highest god even after the counterrevolution, and the motif of a god extending an ankh to the king was very popular (a variation is even found on the Broken Obelisk of Tiglath-pileser I). Strawn concludes that the outstretched arm was known even in the Levant and it conveyed two connotations: it was both the destructive and the life-giving arm. And these aspects are more related than they appear at first sight: the arm defeating an external enemy is simultaneously the life-giving and life-defending arm for the insider group.

In “Minima methodica und die Sonnengottheit von Jerusalem” (pp. 213–23), Othmar Keel (University of Fribourg, CH) provides a rebuttal to Friedhelm Hartenstein's critique of his earlier interpretation of 1 Kings 8:12–13 (MT) || 8:53 (LXX).[2] In 2002 Keel argued for the presence of a sun god and his cult in ancient Jerusalem, a conclusion that Hartenstein criticized. In this article Keel emphasizes the remarkable order of the sentence in 1 Kgs 8:53 (LXX), stressing that within Solomon's speech kyrios fits better with the second line than the first. Therefore, LXX, as the older version, clearly hints at a sun god announcing the wish of kyrios, that is, YHWH.

In the final article, “What is an Image? A Basis for Iconographic Exegesis” (pp. 225–32), Isaak de Hulster considers a fundamental issue of iconographic exegesis. He agrees with the common definition of an image as a mediated representation, although he remarks that it is difficult to speak of the absence of images in cases of abstract concepts and ideas. Then de Hulster gives an overview of the various media that images can be presented in: there are not only the material media but also perception, language, and literature. All must be taken into consideration for an exegetical investigation to rightly be called “iconographic.”

The book concludes with a number of indices: biblical references, Akkadian and Ugaritic texts, authors, gods and demons, kings, and subjects.

The volume represents a SBL session: a number of short papers, each investigating one aspect of the main topic with considerable depth. In future studies it might be interesting to continue the debate about the methodology of iconographic exegesis, a topic which serves as a subject of discussion both explicitly and implicitly in numerous contributions to this volume.

Frank Ueberschaer, University of Zurich

[1] Othmar Keel, Jahwes Entgegnung an Ijob: eine Deutung von Ijob 38-41 vor dem Hintergrund der zeitgenössischen Bildkunst (FRLANT, 121; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978). reference

[2] Othmar Keel, “Der salomonische Tempelweihspruch: Beobachtungen zum religionsgeschichtlichen Kontext des Ersten Jerusalemer Tempels,” in Gottesstadt und Gottesgarten: Zur Geschichte und Theologie des Jerusalemer Tempels (ed. O. Keel and E. Zenger; Freiburg: 2002), 9–23; Friedhelm Hartenstein, “Sonnengott und Wettergott in Jerusalem? Religionsgeschichtliche Beobachtungen zum Tempelweihspruch Salomos im masoretischen Text und in der LXX (1 Kön 8,12f // 3Reg 8,53),” in Mein Haus wird ein Bethaus für alle Völker genannt werden (Jes 56,7): Judentum seit der Zeit des Zweiten Tempels in Geschichte, Literatur und Kult (ed. J. Münnchen; Neukirchen-Vluyn 2007), 53–69 reference