Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Hebrew God: Portrait of an Ancient Deity

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Hebrew God: Portrait of an Ancient Deity

Article excerpt

The Hebrew God: Portrait of an Ancient Deity. By Bernhard Lang. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002. x + 246 pp. $ 32.50 (cloth).

Via multiple probes of ancient Semitic and Egyptian religion, Bernhard Lang sketches the understanding of deity among ancient Near Easterners in general, and particularly among the Hebrews. The focus is on deity's major roles and character traits. Langs treatment is resolutely comprehensive: a broad ranging, systematic sketch with an enlivening use of ancient images and texts. (Hearty thanks go to Yale University Press for its willingness to print the many drawings.) Anyone interested in comparative religion or ancient Near Eastern history and culture will profit from reading this book.

To achieve his systematic breadth, Lang uses an appealing anthropological theory developed by Georges Dumezil (1898-1986). Dumezil schematized ideal society as blessed with three divine gifts: wisdom, victory, and life. Based on this scheme, Lang portrays Semitic deity as an ideal king who unites society's three core roles of teacher, warrior, and food producer. He subdivides the third role, giving separate treatments to God as sustainer of the life of animals, humans, and plants. Inevitably, Lang must stretch some pieces of evidence to Bt his model. (Does Shaddai in Job really mean "Lord of the Animals"?) Lang also mutes some antisocial roles of Semitic deity, for example, omitting treatment of the well-attested marzeakh cult, where deities are reckless drunks.

Lang's presentation of deity is thoroughly humanistic; he repeatedly clarifies that his point of view is the history of religions. Although a fully legitimate mode of research, this stance will leave those with theological interests unsatisfied. More of a problem, a strong peppering of reductionisms in the book proves distracting. …

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