Believe it or not, George Romero did not invent the idea of zombies. Instead, zombies have quite a long history within world literature. Zombies are even present in the Mesopotamia story, “Decent of Ishtar to the Netherworld,” in which the goddess, Ishtar, decides to visit the netherworld which is presided over by her sister, Ereshkigal. At first the gatekeeper does not grant Ishtar admittance. Naturally, Ishtar (the goddess of sex and war, by the way) gets her Irish up and threatens:
Hey, gatekeeper, open your gate! Open your gate for me that I may enter! If you don’t open the gate for me (and) I cannot enter, I will smash the door and break the bolt, I will smash the doorjamb and overturn the doors, I will break the balance and tear off the knob! I will raise up the dead to devour the living, the dead shall outnumber the living! (p. 29 of SAACT 6).
Within this threat we have two of the classic features of zombies–1) animated dead people that 2) feed on the living. A similar threat is also found in a poem about Ereshkigal’s sexual frustration and the accent of Nergal as king of the underworld, “Nergal and Ereshkigal.”
Within the Christian scriptures (and Madigan and Levenson have argued that the theme of resurrection is present within the Hebrew Bible as well) the closest we get to zombies are the resurrected Jesus and then the saints at the end of days. However, these resurrected dead people do not feed on the living–an important distinction which prevents us from regarding them as zombies. Furthermore, the resurrection is pictured differently than merely animated dead people–the resurrected dead retain their personalities, memories, etc.
In any case, the next time you see a movie or TV show with zombies in it, remember that you are exploring an idea that is a few thousand years old.
He was a great scholar and will surely be missed. Of his many works you can view his Introduction to the OT, his Judges commentary, and Israel in the Biblical Period among others in Google Books.
Via no-thought-left-unblogged-Jim West.
In the spirit of Halloween I plan to do a few posts that relate to Halloweenish themes. Probably the favorite scary character, second only to Zombies (on that note AMC has a new zombie series, The Walking Dead, that will air in Mad Men’s time slot), is the vampire. Now, you might think, what on earth is a Bible and ANE blog doing talking about vampires? Well, the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (page 887) actually has an entry on vampires. Ron Hendel discusses the fact that some interpreters have connected a word in Proverbs 30:15 which reads: “The ‘aluqah has two daughters: “Give! Give!” There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, “Enough.” with vampires.
‘Aluqah occurs only here in the Hebrew Bible, however, the word does appear in other Semitic languages, notably some incantations that talk about “blood-suckers.” So, some propose a personified reading of the “blood-suckers” as “vampires” or the like. However, as Nathan Wasserman has persuasively shown (“On Leeches, Dogs, and Gods in Old Babylonian Medical Incantations,” Revue d’assyriologie et d’archéologie orientale 102 (2008): 71-85) this passage probably refers to a leech. Not only were various species of leeches present in ancient Babylonia and Palestine, but they were likely used by the doctor, asû, as part of medical therapies/religious rites. But, whether they were used specifically for blood letting is still undetermined (however, I think this is likely the case).
On the topic of leeches, my mom wrote a children’s science book about leeches, Those Amazing Leeches, as well as a Parade magazine cover article about their medical uses. Here’s an interview with her about the subject.
Jack Sasson called our attention to a video of the session, “Centenary of Benno Landsberger,” at the 1990 AOS meeting. Landsberger is one of the all-time greats in Assyriological and ancient Near Eastern studies (here is the CDLI page on him as well as Wikipedia). The video is a wonderful remembrance of an incredible scholar. My doktorvator, Samuel Greengus gives some humorous anecdotes about Landsberger, including one in which Landsberger received a prescription while in the hospital that he might receive one beer per hour after five o’clock (Greengus begins at 1:09:20). Be sure to also check out the Facebook group, Students of Benno Landsberger and if you meet the qualifications please join.
Richard Billows, professor of history at Columbia, has a helpful reflection on intellectual trends and historiography in his new book, Marathon: How One Battle Changed Western Civilization:
[W]e have seen wars such as Korea, Vietnam, and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan, in which rare victories seem to bog down into interminable guerrilla wars, partisan operations, and/or insurrections that render victory in battle meaningless and war seemingly irrational, lasting victory unattainable. In the intellectual atmosphere generated by these less invigorating experiences of war, the notion of the decisive battle, the epoch-making event that turns history away from one path and onto another, has become unfashionable to say the least.
We mustn’t let intellectual fashion decide our analysis of historical events, however. The present experience of battle as indecisive and leading to no useful result is only a phase of history, the result of a particular configuration of societies, and of the distribution of the means of destructive force. Our era’s experience of warfare and battle can’t properly detract from the reality and validity of the experiences of other eras, in which under different social, political, and military conditions, battles really were decisive.
I think this reminder is important since it is now common for historians to focus upon the longue durée, or the long-term structures–whether societal, philosophical, environmental, ktl–that lead to certain outcomes. Now, I certainly think that these factors are indispensable to an accurate view of history but in addition to long-term factors we must also make room for singular events and individuals who dramatically shaped the course of history. What do you think?
Bonus: You can hear an interview with Billows on All Things Considered.
My friend, David Esrati, posted that note taking at tech conferences is passé because the other attendees are typing up blog posts about the presentations or tweeting about them. So, you can just sit back and enjoy the talks and let the others do your work for you. So, do you think this also applies to SBL? I think maybe the only hitch is that some of the SBLers might not be as tech savvy as tech conference attendees so there may be presentations in which no one gives a tweet. What do you think?
The NY Times has a nice piece on the OI’s exhibit, “Visible Language: Inventions of Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond.”
Chip Hardy at the (not so) Daily Hebrew blog (sorry, Chip, couldn’t resist it) has a link to a video of Theo van den Hout giving a cuneiform demonstration. Well worth clicking.
I came across a downloadable version on Scribd (I don’t know if this is legal or not; I already own a copy so I didn’t investigate too much) of Gerhard Hasel’s Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate in which Hasel shows that a central content theme to the Old Testament is not workable. Rather, he proposes that instead of finding a unity to the Bible in content, people of faith should find unity within the God who inspired the Bible.
I find Hasel’s critique of the myriad of proposed “central themes” of the Old Testament convincing and anyone interested in OT theology should read this book.
So, James Spinti has sweetened the pot (he doesn’t live in Cali does he?) of a “most boring book title contest” and I’d love to get a $50 gift certificate in my hands. While I’m tempted to say that any book on archaeology de facto is boring, I’ll specifiy with this title:
An Index to the Late Bronze Age Aegean Pottery from Syria-Palestine
Take note that the above book is not merely about pottery scraps but it is an INDEX of pottery scraps. Just go ahead and poke my eyes out now…
For my second submission how about this one:
Used Book: A Fiscal History of Iran in the Safavid and Qajar Periods 1500-1925