Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Broida, Marian W., Forestalling Doom: “Apotropaic Intercession” in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East (AOAT, 417; Münster: Ugarit Verlag, 2014). Pp. xx + 282. Hardback. €98.00. ISBN 978-3-86835-110-1.

This excellent monograph, the published version of the author's doctoral thesis, explores, as the title suggests, apotropaic intercession by humans. This type of intercession is inspired by the ancient Near Eastern belief that (1) misfortune was sent by the deities but (2) the same or other deities gave advance notice of such misfortune, with the result that (3) it might be possible to ward off the divinely decreed misfortune. Broida's study focuses on the element of human utterances: what kind of verbal power were these humans thought to have had and what means (magic, rhetoric) did they use in order to change a divine decree of doom? In order to respond to these questions, Broida employs speech act theory and rhetorical analysis.

Broida's study falls into four chapters of roughly equal length and ends with a substantial summary. In chapter 1 Broida explores introductory matters and explains the methodology and the goals of her study. She begins by discussing the concept of “agency,” namely the ability of an entity to influence its surrounding. Agency, understood in this context, is culturally dependent in the sense that it is informed by what a particular society believed an entity to possess. Expressed differently, Broida works within the worldview of the society responsible for creating these texts, a worldview which is also reflected in their rituals. From this perspective the deities were endowed with agency, as were their authorized human interlocutors.

Broida continues by offering a succinct discussion of the abovementioned beliefs in divinatory cultures that deities desire to communicate their future plans to humans and that they control material culture in order to convey these plans. She also discusses her comparative approach, making clear that she is comparing texts (rather than practices). Furthermore, her aim is less to reconstruct actual rituals and more to uncover the underlying beliefs pertaining to intercessory practices. In short, what did people think that they were doing when they were involved in apotrophaic intercession? Finally, her approach is synchronic, looking at different types of human-divine intercessory practices, rather than seeking to uncover any potential development of ideas over time.

In this discussion Broida touches upon the concept of magic, surveying different definitions and acknowledging her dependency of Jesper Sørensen's cognitive theory of magic which advocates the view that the efficacy attributed to magic relies on mystery. Magical powers can be accessed during ritual by help of agents (ritual practitioners), objects (material items used during the ritual, including words), or actions (including speech acts). Broida simplifies this scheme insofar as she states that “supernatural or magical power is accessed or transmitted primarily through the object, agent, or action (as understood within the culture)” (p. 26).

Broida then discusses how Speech Act Theory can be used to further our understanding of apotropaic intercessory speech. In particular, Broida applies this method in order to distinguish between what she calls “ordinary speech” (i.e., speech that follows the rules of intuitive science) and “causative speech” (i.e., speech that is believed to act directly on some aspect of reality, thus breaking the rules of reality). The use of these categories enables comparisons across cultures and literary genres. In the case of the latter category, Broida has developed a set of five categories which describe in more detail how “ordinary” versus “causative” speech seek to alter reality. For instance, the category named “assertive speech” makes a statement: “ordinary assertive speech” makes a claim, in contrast to “causative assertive speech” which makes a statement that comes true in ways not normally possible by speech alone, such as declaring that something is something else. Speech can also be directive, commissive, expressive, or declarative. Turning to aspects of rhetorical analysis, Broida outlines her use of ethos, pathos, and logos to describe the type of persuasion that a given speech act involves.

Finally, Broida explores the complicated issue of efficacy: how effective did the society responsible for the texts under discussion believe the speech acts to be? Broida distinguishes between “general ritual efficacy” (the acknowledgement by society that correct performance of a ritual will ordinarily lead to ritual success), “magical efficacy” (a subset of the first category, wherein a certain person/act/object is understood to increase the efficacy), and “persuasive efficacy” (where the outcome of the performance is heightened by the rhetorical quality of human speech).

The next three chapters proceed systematically through the three textual corpora under investigations. Chapter 2 examines the notion of apotropaic intercession in Mesopotamia, using two Neo-Assyrian ritual texts as her text-cases. The chapter opens with a discussion, in close interaction with previous scholarship, of the namburbi rituals (i.e., rituals which aim to ward off bad omens) with focus on their structure and purpose.

Broida then studies the two chosen texts: KAR 64, lines 10–58, a text which outlines the ritual for warding off the evil foretold by the appearance of a dog, and LKA 112, a text which describes the ritual for countering the evil portended by the appearance of a wildcat. In both cases, Broida uses speech act theory and rhetorical analysis. She outlines the speech acts used in the text and offers a rhetorical analysis of these same speech acts. She determines the main category (“ordinary” versus “causative” speech) and also the sub-category (e.g., assertive or directive speech) into which the speech act falls. In a few cases, Broida postulates a hybrid form which may be either petitions or commands, depending on the understanding of the verbal mood. Broida also provides a rhetorical analysis wherein she explores the way in which a petition is phrased and what verbal means are used to appeal to the deities.

She concludes with a discussion of the perceived links to the supernatural. In Mesopotamian culture, for example, the rites are understood to have supernatural powers because the deities have empowered these same rituals with supernatural powers. She also touches upon the type of efficacy that these texts reflect, arguing that the namburbi rituals manifest both persuasive efficacy (where the ritual serves to convince the deities to act in a certain way) and magical efficacy (where the ritual serves to establish a substitute that will take the place of the afflicted person). At the same time, Broida stresses that the deities have the ultimate control and are never forced to revoke a foretold doom.

Chapter 3 turns to the textual evidence from Anatolia. Broida begins anew with a short background survey which relates to areas of Anatolian religious traditions important for the present study, as well as to aspects of Hittite grammar germane to the use and translation of what is best called the “third person imperative,” a form that is prevalent in the texts under discussion.

As in the preceding chapter, Broida bases her discussion on two select texts, namely CTH 398 (Ritual of Ḫuwalru) which describes the ritual employed for warding off the evil foretold by augury (the behaviour of birds), and CTH 476 (Ritual of Papanikri) which outlines the ritual to use in order to counter the evil predicted by a broken birth-stool. Broida offers an analysis of the speech acts involved in each of the two rituals and ends with an analysis of the perceived links to the supernatural and the evidence for the presumed efficacy of the rituals. Broida notes that while the first text relies on both general and ritual efficacy, the second text depends primarily on general efficacy. Moreover, while the first text uses predominantly the logos of analogy, the second text is more dependent on (ordinary) logic. Finally, as in the case of the Mesopotamian material, these rituals do not ensure automatic success. Rather, they depend on divine assistance in order to be successful, by either acceding to the plea or empowering the ritual.

Chapter 4 explores the biblical material. Broida begins by delimiting her selection of texts, choosing only such texts that (1) contain an appeal by an authorized intercessory, (2) contain direct discourse, (3) are directed to the deity, and (4) which follow and respond to a clear divine promise or a prediction of punishment. Based on these criteria, Broida selects the following texts (seven narratives and four prophetic visions): Gen 18:23b–32a; Exod 32:11b–13; 32:31b–32; Num 14:13b–19; 16:22aβ–b; Deut 9:26aβ–29; Ezek 9:8bβ; Ezek 11:13bβ; Amos 7:2abβ–b, 5aβ–b; 1 Chron 21:17aβ–b (cf. 2 Sam 24:17aβ–b). Broida then proceeds, as in the previous two chapters, to analyse the speech acts used in these texts as well as offer a rhetorical analysis. Her investigation reveals a complete absence of causative speech, combined with a large variety of persuasive strategies which involves all three types ethos, pathos, and logos. The speech acts themselves often take the form of assertives, plain directives, and expressives (including a hybrid form of expressive/directive called “complaining questions” by Broida). In contrast, there are no commissives or declaratives which are characteristic of ritual speech. As to the efficacy of biblical apotropaic intercessory speech, Broida highlights that the intended result is generally achieved, as God either “forgives” (סלח) or “changes his mind” (נחם), yet success is not automatic (e.g., Ezek 9:8).

The book ends with a substantial conclusion where Broida summarizes the findings of the preceding three chapters and, more importantly, offers a comparative analysis of the data. For instance, all of the texts aim to persuade the deities to cancel the foretold doom, although the techniques involved to achieve this goal varies. Likewise, many of the arguments used to achieve this end are similar, such as appeal to the deities' desire for prestige and to their compassion and promise of care for their worshipers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this well-researched and well-written monograph. In particular, Broida's approach using speech act theory enhances the study of intercession in both the Bible and the ancient Near Eastern texts, while facilitating comparisons between different texts and cultures. I look forward to more studies along the same line which can increase our understanding of how people in the ancient world perceived the interaction and communication between humans and their deities.

Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, University of Aberdeen