I’m putting the finishing touches on the methodological note / discussion starter I’ll be presenting at the upcoming Neo-Assyrian Insights on Ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible section of Western Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Tempe. It’s a lot harder to give a 10 minute talk than a 20 minute talk. My remarks will be based, in part, on a wild, crazy, idea I had a few months ago. At that time, I speculated that Akkadian medical-divination rituals like the one recorded in BAM 323:1-38 might inform our understanding of Leviticus 17:13, the requirement to drain and cover with dust the blood of hunted animals. BAM 323:2-3 reads in translation,
Dust of an abandoned city (epir âli nadî), dust of an abandoned house, dust of an abandoned temple, dust of an abandoned tomb, dust of foundations(?), dust of an abandoned canal, dust of a road; you gather (them) together; mix (them) with bull’s blood (dām alpi) (and) make a figure of the evil thing.
In the ritual, after making the figure, the practitioner first transfers a ghost from the patient to the figure and then gives the figure, along with the ghost, a decent burial or at least an out of the way one.
The methodological issue involves how to evaluate or even define markers that would support a suggested relationship between the Biblical law and the tradition of divination (if not between the two texts themselves). The fact is, I’m not sure that one can. And I will tell my audience in Tempe that even if this relationship has an intuitive appeal, this, and many other seeming parallels, is methodologically unsupportable. I will say this despite also showing that many such parallels very likely exist.
Part of my final preparation includes looking at commentaries on Leviticus. For unimportant reasons, I have an abnormally large collection of mostly older Leviticus commentaries in my personal library. One I don’t have is Jacob Milgrom’s Anchor Bible commentary. Figuring that I might well embarrass myself if I didn’t review Milgrom’s work, I spent this morning looking at it and a few other commentaries and papers at a library that has even more Leviticus commentaries than I do. And am I ever glad that I did.
Milgrom lists seven possible motivations for Leviticus 17:13. His seventh is, “So that the blood will not be used in chthonic rites – that is, for divination.” And this is his preferred motivation.
Whereas earlier I opted for explanation no. 5 [so the blood does not cry out for vengeance – des], I now prefer no. 7. It complements the band on animal slaughter outside the sanctuary, which, in my view, is also directed against chthonic worship. I also like no. 4, blood as life, the very one offered by the text. These two (nos. 4 and 7) are not mutually exclusive: the ban on using blood in chthonic worship (no. 7) implies that, instead, the blood should be returned to God. [1483, references omits]
Hmmm. While I like Milgrom’s thought process, I’m not changing my conclusion. But I am sure glad that I read what he had to say.