Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Book of Job, Gospel of John, and Choon-Leong Seow

Posted: November 13, 2015 in General

Seow, Leong-RJM

This evening [i.e., 12 November 2015, 5 PM], Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Fuller organized a Guest Lecture at Geneva Room. On the occasion, one of the leading figures in the field of Hebrew Bible, Prof. Choon-Leong Seow [Distinguished Professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School], was the speaker. He was formerly serving as professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey. Prof. Seow’s paper was on an interesting topic, entitled “The Book of Job in Its Ancient Near Eastern Milieu.” Special appreciation goes to Prof. Christopher B. Hays [D. Wilson Moore Associate Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, School of Theology, Fuller, Pasadena] for this important initiative.

In his lecture, Prof. Seow arrayed several parallelisms between The Book of Job and the ANE Literature. One of the striking points to me was about the usage of dialogue genre in both the traditions. In my recent book, I made the following similar observations:

The religious traditions of both the Ancient Near Eastern and the Greco-Roman contexts are rich in having dialogue as a literary genre. In the east, dialogue dates back to the Sumero-Babylonian dialogues and disputations (preserved in copies from the early second millennium BCE). In the Akkadian Gilgamesh Epic, conversations develop within the larger dialogue framework of Gilgamesh and Ishtar. Similarly, the living together of the divine pantheon under the supreme triad, Enlil, Enki, and An, and other gods surrounding them, makes the Mesopotamian creation myths confrontational and dialogical. The creation myth of the Enuma Elish develops as a series of verbal disputations among those figures making up the Babylonian divine pantheon. The dispute is primarily between the younger-generation gods and the primordial gods. The dialogue is one of the important means through which the confrontation is reported in this document. The Ugaritic texts of the Canaanite tradition contain various episodes of the Baal cycle. In Baal’s battle with the sea, implicit and multi-level war dialogues develop, especially among El, Baal, and Yam. Another array of dialogues develops among El, Baal, Athirat, Anat, and Kothar before the construction of a palace for Baal. The brief survey above of the Sumero-Babylonian, Egyptian, Canaanite, Greek, and Roman religious traditions serves to confirm that dialogue and interactions among the deities themselves and between the pantheon and the human world were part and parcel of the affairs of the ancient world (Thomaskutty, 2015: 27-29).

In a sub-section entitled “Old Testament Traditions” I had made the following observations about the Book of Job:

The Book of Job has this pattern at a distinct level. The ‘happy ending’ pattern of the Book of Job finds parallels with the materials from Mesopotamia and Egypt (cf. Clines, 1989). Majercik (1992: 186; cf. De Regt, 2007: 119, 162) points out that, “Among the OT writings, the Book of Job is the chief example of a literary work in dialogue form, but a type of dialogue that is influenced by literary precedents in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.” This feature of the text provides dramatic appeal to the portrayal of Job’s story (Thomaskutty, 2015: 34-36).

Prof. Seow’s literary and narrative analysis of the Book of Job in relation to the ANE traditions throws light on to a well developed literary genre called dialogue. In the analysis, he also made it poignant that though there are parallelisms between Job and ANE Literature, at certain points and levels the said biblical text distanced itself from other literary works. Keeping that into mind I argue that: “The Johannine dialogues show striking similarities with the dialogues of the OT. As in the case of the OT dialogues, the Johannine dialogues maintain an ‘inner-negotiation’ and ‘outer-confrontation’ pattern. Though we identify similarities between the dialogues of the OT and the Gospel of John, John employs the pattern in his own terms to comfort the ‘believing insiders’ and to address the ‘unbelieving outsiders’” (p.36). From the above observation one can notice the following things: first, dialogue was a common literary genre found in ANE Literature, The Book of Job, and The Gospel of John; second, though Job had influences from the ANE Literature, it has its own unique features in implementing the dialogue genre; and third, John, similarly, has ample number of parallelisms with the dialogues of ANE Literature and The Book of Job. But the Fourth Evangelist maintained dialogue as a literary genre in his own idiom. Thanking you Dr. Seow and Dr. Chris.

Reference:

Thomaskutty, Johnson., 2015. Dialogue in the Book of Signs: A Polyvalent Analysis of John 1:19-12:50. Leiden/Boston: E.J. Brill.

Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

[GRI Writing Scholar, Fuller, Pasadena, California]

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