Monday, October 21, 2013

Jubilees and Ancient Inscriptions

Jim Davila over on PaleoJudaica has linked to a (paywalled) article by Jonathan Ben-Dov in Haaretz, which speculates that undecipherable (to Aramaic-speakers) Cuneiform tablets may have contributed to the tradition in Jubilees that forbidden antediluvian knowledge was preserved on stone tablets.

While this is an intriguing proposition, and I look forward to reading the article in more detail, the tablets discovered by Kainan in Jubilees stand in a long line of traditions--from Jewish, Near Eastern, and Mediterranean sources--involving the preservation of primordial knowledge inscribed on tablets, plates, or stellae (usually in pairs). As I discuss in my dissertation, this appears to have been a pervasive motif that wasn't necessarily linked to any specific narrative.

Ben-Dov's also speculates that the Enochic tradition of angelic instruction in astral lore might have been influenced by an imaginative interpretation of carvings of Babylonian kings surrounded by astrological symbols. While Ben-Dov acknowledges antecedents in the culture-hero myths of the Babylonians, he fails to take into account the entire context of interconnected traditions linking giants, the primordial past, supernatural instruction, and astrology. All of the ingredients for the Enochic myth were already present in the cultural koine of the ancient Mediterranean/Near Eastern complex, and, indeed, appear to have been combined in differing configurations independently of one another (paralleling my own research, John C. Reeves has charted at least three possible threads of fallen-angel traditions influencing ancient sources).

This doesn't discount the possibility that awareness of cuneiform tablets may have affected the directions taken by those interpreting the extant motifs, but hardly in the primary sense Ben-Dov implies.

ETA: It looks like Dr. Ben-Dov is giving a talk at Penn next month which promises a more nuanced version of this argument, and may well address my above reservations. I guess I'll have to hop a train up and catch it. Because I don't already have enough to do in November.

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