Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Green, Douglas J., “I Undertook Great Works”: The Ideology of Domestic Achievements in West Semitic Royal Inscriptions (FAT, II/41; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010). Pp. XV + 358. Softcover. € 74.00, ISBN 978-3-16-150168-5.

This is a “light revision” of Green's 2003 Ph.D. thesis at Yale University which began under Mark Smith, but was completed under the supervision of Robert Wilson. It seeks to fill a gap in the study of royal ideology in ancient Near Eastern inscriptions, specifically in West Semitic inscriptions. While conquest accounts from all areas of the ancient Near East have been treated rather thoroughly, the domestic achievements of kings have received less attention. According to Green, these are no less essential in effecting the self-praise so common to Neo-Assyrian and, as he argues, to West Semitic royal inscriptions.

Chapter 1 introduces the understanding of “ideology” that Green employs throughout the essay, as well as the nine West Semitic inscriptions under investigation. They are are: Yehimilk, Mesha, Kilamuwa, Zakkur, Hadad (= Panamuwa I), Panamuwa (= Panamuwa II), Bar-Rakkab, Karatepe (Azatiwada), and the Tell Siran Bottle. The treatment of each of the inscriptions is so detailed and sensitive that the book is a useful study of each of these works in its own right. Yet Green believes that they may be treated as a corpus, since they all participate to some extent in the “memorial inscription” genre, and each has some interest in the domestic achievements of the inscriptional king.

Chapter 2 lays out the methodology of the study. Green's work is founded on the basic insights of the “Italian school,” particularly their treatment of Neo-Assyrian royal ideology as reflecting a series of binary oppositions. The writings of Mario Liverani and Carlo Zaccagnini play a special role. Green cites a 1973 essay by Liverani as being seminal to his study (“Memorandum on the Approach to Historiographic Texts,” Or 42 [1973]: 178–94), and he repeatedly refers to Zaccagnini's essay, “An Urartean Royal Inscription in the Report of Sargon's Eighth Campaign” (in Assyrian Royal Inscriptions: New Horizons in Literary, Ideological, and Historical Analysis: Papers of a Symposium Held in Cetona [Spain] June 26–28, 1980 [ed. F. M. Fales; Orientis Antiqui Collectio XVII; Rome: Oriental Institute, 1981], 259–95), as offering the most extensive treatment of domestic achievements in Neo-Assyrian royal ideology.

Green's method is, first of all, literary. It focuses on actors, actions, and setting (including both time and space) and analyzes the inscription's rhetorical techniques as portals into the “narrative world” of the author and reading audiences, as well as the ideology that shapes those narrative worlds. At the same time, the approach is contextual and anthropological. His readings are informed by W. W. Hallo's contextual approach, with a dash of a social-scientific focus on honor and shame that likely reflects the influence of Robert Wilson.

Green's thesis is that the military conquests and domestic achievements of ancient Near Eastern kings belong inextricably together. Rather than simply restoring order from previously negative circumstances, the king goes farther by creating “heightened order.” (p. 40). Military victory brings a reversal of negative conditions, but then the king's domestic accomplishments—architectural and agricultural—create an Edenic atmosphere, even a “blessed life” (p. 317). The nine West Semitic inscriptions that he treats “breathe the same ideological air” (p. 290) as the Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions and thus may be understood as highly creative and imaginative accounts whose interpretation is aided by considering their rhetoric against the background of narratives about the domestic achievements of Neo-Assyrian kings.

Chapter 3 paints the Assyrian backdrop against which the West Semitic inscriptions will be considered in Chapters 4–12. Green paints this portrait using a selection of texts from the early (Tiglath-pileser I), middle (Ashurnasirpal II) and later (Sargon II–Ashurbanipal) Neo-Assyrian period. By offering examples, he outlines various binary oppositions in these texts, including good (king) vs. bad (enemy), and order vs. disorder. To these oppositions recognized by Liverani and others, Green adds beauty vs. ugliness (p. 65). The literary account of Sargon II's eighth campaign to Urartu is the starting point for his setting out the two root metaphors which he sees operative in domestic achievements recounted in Neo-Assyrian royal texts: (1) the king as gardener (agricultural) and (2) the king as builder (architectural). These two motifs are operative on two axes: (1) spatial and (2) temporal.

In Part II of the book, Green analyzes his corpus of West Semitic inscriptions against the background set out in Chapter 3. The nine inscriptions are presented in (roughly) chronological order, and Yehimilk comes first. Here I have some question about the order of presentation. The study itself does not stand or fall on presenting the inscriptions chronologically, and it would have been rhetorically stronger to begin by analyzing an inscription that more clearly exhibits the features Green has outlined previously than Yehimilk does. That is not to say that ideological opposition between order and disorder, for example, is lacking in Yehimilk. But the relative brevity of the inscription makes it harder to see and thus starts the reader off on the wrong foot on the path toward seeing such themes in West Semitic inscriptions.

The Mesha inscription in Chapter 5, on the other hand, offers a fantastic example of the fruitfulness of Green's literary-ideological approach. He notes the pairing of Mesha and the god Chemosh over against the king of Israel and the god Yhwh, creating two opposing pairs of characters. Narrative space and time are especially important in the interpretation of the inscription. According to Green, Mesha's narrative space can be divided into four concentric circles, with Dibon in the center and with the acropolis (qrḥh) in its epicenter. Time may be divided into two parts: time before Mesha, and time during Mesha's reign. “The inscription manipulates narrative time and space in such a way as to present Mesha as the creator and intensifier of order and ideal domestic conditions” (p. 127). Mesha does not exhibit all of the features of Assyrian royal ideology of domestic achievements, for its king is more of a builder than a gardener. He does, however, build y‘rn on the acropolis, which may be understood as a parkland or possibly even an orchard (p. 106 n. 40).

The Kilamuwa inscription in Chapter 6 contains “paired memorial inscriptions,” an unusual feature that, according to Green, eventually develops into a distinctive of the Sam’alian tradition (p. 137; see also Hadad and Panamuwa). Once again Green treats narrative space and time, narrative time being the more nuanced of the two in this inscription. In Kilamuwa, the ideal opposition between Kilamuwa and the Danunians must be modified to acknowledge the action of Kilamuwa's suzerain, the Neo-Assyrian king (Shalmaneser III) in coming to his aid against the Danunians. As with Panamuwa and Bar-Rakkab later, the “real world” breaks in and shapes the ideology of the “narrative world.” Finally, Kilamuwa's domestic achievements are somewhat different than those of Mesha and others. While Kilamuwa does create agricultural abundance, he is no builder. Rather, the motif of the just king who establishes social order fills the conceptual slot of king as architect. So “heightened order” in the inscription has to do with establishing equality between the MŠKBM and the B‘RRM. What is more, under Kilamuwa's rule, Ya’diya (see p. 136 n. 7 on vocalization) becomes a utopia in which the poor, oppressed MŠKBM (p. 143 n. 31) were not only owners of flocks, silver, and linen, but even had cattle, gold, and fine linen (lines 11–13).

The Zakkur inscription in Chapter 7 reflects a complex view of space which Green calls a “narrative drift” (p. 174). While Zakkur's ideological vantage point is from Hadrach, there is a drift toward the temple of Iluwer in Aphis. “In Zakkur the word is seen from Aphis but evaluated from Hadrach” (p. 165). The focus in Zakkur is on architecture, not agriculture. In the course of the discussion of narrative time in Zakkur, Green offers a brief but helpful comparison with narrative time in Psalm 2 (p. 167 n. 39).

Chapter 8 treats the Hadad inscription, which, like Kilamuwa, may be viewed as a “paired memorial inscription” that seems to treat agricultural achievements in the first half (lines 1–8) and construction projects in the second half (lines 8–15). The inscription, however, is badly damaged, and the “serious loss of context” (p. 177) makes detailed analysis tenuous. Further, it seems that the agricultural achievements he points to in Hadad are attributed to the gods, not to the inscriptional king, Panamuwa I.

The Panamuwa inscription in Chapter 9 narrates the achievements of Panamuwa II, as recounted by his son, Bar-Rakkab. The inscription opens and closes with dedicatory elements that enclose, once again, two passages that read like paired memorial inscriptions. Unlike Kilamuwa and Hadad, however, these two passages memorialize two different kings: Panamuwa II (lines 1–19), and then, briefly, Bar-Rakkab himself (lines 19-23). Green considers only the first to be relevant to his thesis. The main focus of that portion is the fertility of Ya’diya—its stability, fertility, economic prosperity, and abundant life during Panamuwa II's reign—versus the chaos, barrenness, inflation, and death that characterized the time before his reign. In a theologically suggestive summary statement, Green states, “Panamuwa brings death out of life” (p. 211). As with Kilamuwa, the Assyrian monarch interrupts a simple binary contrast between Panamuwa II and his enemies. As Panamuwa says, it was Tiglath-pileser III who slew the usurping “Stone of Destruction” (‘bn šḥt) and who installed Panamuwa II as king. Rather than attempting to downplay Tiglath-pileser's presence, Panamuwa populates its narrative with other kings to which Panamuwa II is still superior (line 12). He is an Assyrian vassal, but he is the most honored one.

The rhetoric of the Bar-Rakkab inscription treated in Chapter 10, unlike most of the other inscriptions in Green's corpus, does not depend on strong oppositions of either space or time. Such oppositions are muted. Like both Kilamuwa and Panamuwa, Bar-Rakkib again acknowledges the central role of the Assyrian king (Tiglath-pileser III) in establishing his reign. In fact, with the calque on Akkadian šar kibrāt erbetti in lines 3–4 (mr’. rb‘y . ’rq’), “[t]he language of Assyrian royal ideology … intrude[s] into a Sam’alian text” (p. 229). Bar-Rakkab's creation of order is primarily through re-construction of old palaces and building new ones. This is underscored by the repetition of byt nine times in the last fourteen lines.

Chapter 11 treats the Phoenician version of the bilingual Karatepe inscription. Since Azatiwada was not a king, but some kind of independent ruler with quasi-royal status, Green calls it a “quasi-royal inscription” (p. 234). Nonetheless, the narrative makes him “king-like” by ascribing to him the roles typically filled by kings and even by stating that neighboring kings even called him “father” (ʾbt, p. 242 n. 43). In addition to the typical oppositions in space and time, Karatepe casts Azatiwada's effecting of order in terms we have not seen before, such as “righteousness,” “wisdom,” “peace,” and “rest.” Most striking is the theme of Azatiwada's protecting and sustaining a disadvantaged social group, as Kilamuwa had done with the MŠKBM. But it is the enemy in Kilamuwa—the Danunians—who becomes the recipients of the king's compassion in Karatepe. The use of “life” (ḥwy) in the inscription is a fitting summary for what Azatiwada offers as he democratizes his enjoyment of life to the masses.

The final inscription in Green's corpus, the Tell Siran Bottle, is treated in Chapter 12. Green says that Tell Siran draws on the literary tradition of the dedication inscriptions and that both the bottle and its contents were likely dedicated to some deity. Nevertheless, Tell Siran “is the most narrowly king-centered of the West Semitic inscriptions” in the study (p. 277). His accomplishments, unlike Mesha's, are independent of the gods. Tell Siran depicts them as being thoroughly agricultural, focusing on plants and water. Despite the fact that this theme occupies only two short lines of the inscription, Green suggests that this is Amminadab's re-creation of the ideal “Primal Garden” (p. 280). Further, he believes that the king's request for joy and long life in the last three lines of the inscription “border on a request for eternal life” (p. 281).

Part Three summarizes the previous investigation and its implications. Green's study undoubtedly advances the conversation from the basic insights of Liverani, Zaccagnini, and others, particularly in their application to West Semitic inscriptions. He shows convincingly that domestic achievements are not an afterthought of conquest, but an extension of it. The king not only restores old order, but adds value to it. The Assyrian royal inscriptions are indeed helpful in reading the West Semitic material afresh, even while the West Semitic inscriptions and the Assyrian material differ in some ways.

As Green notes in the Preface, he does not interact with scholarship beyond 2003. Newer works such as Sabrina Favaro's Voyages et voyageurs à l'époque néo-assyrienne (SAAS 18; Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2007) complement Green's study of domestic achievements. I was surprised, however, that some works before 2003 were not referenced, such as Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (MC 8; ed. Jerrold Cooper; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1998); Stephanie Dalley on Babylonian gardens; Baruch Halpern's treatment of the ideological claims of Assyrian and Israelite conquest accounts (the “Tiglath-pileser principle”) in David's Secret Demons (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001); or Jon Levenson's work on Edenic themes in ancient Near Eastern thought and biblical literature. Though it was not his aim, I would have enjoyed seeing more interaction with biblical texts, especially since the title of the book is from Eccl 2:4. Many of the themes in this study such as the just king and the new Eden are theologically pregnant and might offer the author an opportunity to pursue them further in connection with biblical literature. Binary oppositions are also the stuff of apocalyptic and eschatology. Finally, Seth Sanders' recent volume, The Invention of Hebrew (Traditions; Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois, 2009), offers a tantalizing possibility for exploring the genetic question. According to Sanders, it is precisely during the Neo-Assyrian period in which Levantine kings begin to imitate the imperial propaganda found on Assyrian monuments throughout the West in their own languages, scripts, and according to their own political ideology. Could it be that the ideological features found in West Semitic inscriptions resemble those of Assyrian royal inscriptions so closely not only because they “breathe the same ideological air,” as Green says (p. 290), but because they are conscious imitations?

In sum, Green's monograph is a clear and well-written study that demonstrates mastery of the philological tools necessary for such a work, but more importantly, creative sensitivity to the rhetorical features of ancient royal ideology. He is to be congratulated on a fine volume that is a must-read for anyone interested in literary approaches to ancient Near Eastern inscriptions in general and to these nine West Semitic inscriptions in particular.

Scott C. Jones, Covenant College