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Secrecy and the Gods: Secret Knowledge in Ancient Mesopotamia and Biblical Israel
State Archives of Assyria Studies, Volume XIX
by Alan Lenzi

Helsinki 2008 • 175 x 250 mm • Pp. xviii + 456
Paper • $72.00 • ISBN-13 978-952-10-1330-0 • ISBN-10 952-10-1330-3

Why was secrecy associated with the divine realm and what function did divine secret knowledge serve among humans? These are the leading questions in Secrecy and the Gods, a comparative mythological study of human reception and treatment of divine secret knowledge in ancient Mesopotamia and biblical Israel.

Lenzi argues the human royal council provided a social model for the association of secrecy and divine knowledge – just as human kings had secrets so too did the gods. Diviners who received this knowledge from the gods in an on-going, ad hoc manner were the essential link between the divine assembly and the human royal council, the end-users of divine secret knowledge.

Scribes eventually adapted the ad hoc divinatory means of receiving divine communications to their culturally significant texts. By discursively asserting a historical connection between themselves and unique mediators with a close divine affiliation (the apkallus and Moses), the scribes constructed myths that legitimated their texts as divine revelation and claimed these were received in history through normal scribal channels. In this manner scribes fixed the secret of the gods permanently among humans in a textualized form that also valorized their own position within society.

Although the origin of divine secret knowledge was rooted in a common mythological idea of the divine assembly, there was a marked difference in its treatment. The Mesopotamians guarded divine secret knowledge through various scribal means, including the attachment of a Geheimwissen colophon to certain tablets (treated exhaustively), whereas biblical Israel published it openly. The contrast in treatment of divine secret knowledge was directly related to different mytho-political self-understandings: Mesopotamia’s imperial aspirations versus biblical Israel’s vassaldom. As vassals to Yahweh, the kings of Judah and Israel as presented in the biblical material were not to formulate secret orders; they were only to obey them.

Brief Table of Contents

  1. The Royal Secret Council and the Divine Assembly
  2. The Textualization of the “Secret of the Gods”
  3. Writing and Guarding: Circumscribing the “Secret of the Gods”
  4. Secrecy, Divine Communication, and the Divine Assembly in Biblical Israel
  5. Ritual Legislation as Divine Knowledge: The Mythological Authorization of the Priestly Legislation, Ezekiel’s Torah, and Deuteronomy
  6. Case Studies in the Hebrew Bible
Secrecy in Daniel
The “Secret Things” of Deuteronomy 29:28
Proverbs 8:22–31 and the Polemics of Wisdom’s Divine Authorization
Deuteronomy 34:10–12: Moses as Israelite Apkallu

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 10 (2010) by Lowell K. Handy
Bibliotheca Orientalis 67 (2010), 162-66, by Heinz-Dieter Neef

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