Category Archives: Publications

”David shot first!” Seeking parallels between the editing of Star Wars and the Hebrew Bible

By Timo Tekoniemi.

What do Han Solo and King Solomon have in common? How about the many deleted scenes of the first Star Wars film A New Hope, and Yahweh’s consort Asherah? Certainly no association can be made between George Lucas and the genesis of the ancient sectarian Qumran community?

Despite over two millennia separating these characters and texts, these phenomena are indeed linked to one another. Not only has it been often noted that Star Wars fandom resembles in many respects a religion of its own, but both the Hebrew Bible and modern films are shaped and revised by editors, who are also bound to use similar editorial techniques. Like the ancient scribes, professional film editors have omissions, transpositions, harmonizations, and even theological/ideological corrections in their toolbox. In this light, one immediately recognizes the similarities between the many omissions made to the very first preliminary cut of A New Hope (“The Lost Cut”), which was deemed as a failure and in need of radical re-editing, and the likely omission of the Israelite goddess Asherah from the Hebrew Bible. Both of these radical and vast omissions were made necessary in their respective new contexts, whether a need for a watchable movie or a new theological paradigm where Yahweh was understood as the sole god of the Israelites.

The editorial interventions of scribes and editors were/are not always this drastic, however, but, more often than not, rather small and slight – but far from inconsequential. For example, when we note that in the Septuagint edition of 1 Kings 11:1 King Solomon seems to become less sinful, being simply a “lover of women” instead of “lover of foreign women” (thus breaking against Deut 7:1–4, where intermarrying with foreigners is prohibited), we are likely dealing with a slight ideological enhancement of the picture of the pious king Solomon. This impression is corroborated by a similar “pious correction” later made by George Lucas to his re-edited Special Edition (1997) of A New Hope. Despite being the only one to shoot in the original version of the film, in the now infamous scene of the Special Edition one of the heroes, Han Solo, seems to shoot in self-defence only after the bounty hunter Greedo, who is after the reward on his head. This change mitigates the blame of Han’s cold-blooded murder – and, in fact, renders Han a victim of Greedo’s aggression!

Depiction by Giovanni Battista Venanzi of King Solomon being led astray into idolatry in his old age by his wives, 1668. Source.

Despite its minor scale, this alteration made by Lucas has incited widespread opposition in the fan community, as it considerably changes the depiction of Han Solo, and has therefore larger ideological repercussions to the whole saga. Thus, when the fans maintain to this day that “Han shot first”, they are in fact defending both their right to claim authority to maintain their view of the old canon (where Han still shoots first) and the earlier, untampered textual edition, the original trilogy. There is an ongoing battle between the different Star Wars canons, which forms a very close parallel to the current scholarly dispute concerning the canonicity of different books and editions of the biblical books. It is likely that observations of this ongoing modern “battle of canons” could also help biblical scholars to better understand how the ancient communities (and their leaders) may have understood and contested the different ideas of textual canon(s) of their time.

Like the Qumran community, which seems to have severed its ties with the Jerusalem priesthood after some theological disagreements, also parts of the fan community have gone as far as completely denouncing George Lucas as the “high priest” of the saga. To them, Lucas no more has any authority in matters concerning Star Wars. Many of these fans have taken matters in their own hands in the form of fan-editing, i.e. editing the movies themselves to better conform to their own canonical picture of the saga, which is mainly based on the original trilogy. In the process these fan-editors have created a fluid and massive textual plurality of different versions and editions of the loved Star Wars movies (to date at least 137 fan edits!). Somewhat paradoxically, however, the fan-editors see themselves not as rebellious renegades, but, on the contrary, as the keepers of the flame for “the original Star Wars,” now seemingly desecrated and abandoned by Lucas. This massive interpretive textual plurality resembles in many ways that found in the caves of Qumran.

It has become clear that there are multiple parallels between the Star Wars saga, its editing, and its reception by the fan community, on one hand, and the editing of the Hebrew Bible, on the other. Viewpoints taken from Film Studies are therefore not only valid when assessing the editorial techniques reflected by the Hebrew Bible, but might, with further research, prove to be an invaluable parallel and aid to text- and literary critics alike, enhancing our understanding of the textual evolution of the Hebrew Bible. Since the Star Wars franchise is also currently in a textually active situation, with new instalments being filmed at the very moment (the next film, focused on young Han Solo, will be published in May), the saga is an excellent example of a constantly evolving literary work.

Portion of the Temple Scroll, labeled 11Q19, found at Qumran. Source.

Texts were and are thus rewritten exactly because of – not in spite of – their importance to the community. Even radical editing of a text is, at least to a certain degree, always a means to preserve an earlier text that is perceived as somehow important. An immutable text becomes, in a way, dead, and in danger of being simply forgotten; or, in the words of George Lucas, “films never get finished, they get abandoned.”

Timo Tekoniemi’s article “Editorial In(ter)ventions: Comparing the Editorial Processes of the Hebrew Bible and the Star Wars Saga,” was published in the Journal of Religion & Film 22/1 (2018): 1–30. It can be downloaded either at the journal’s home page or his academia.edu page.

Muinaisen Lähi-idän tutkimus laajasti esillä Yliopisto-lehdessä

Uusimmassa Yliopisto-lehdessä julkaistiin laaja juttu, jossa käydään läpi Lähi-idän historiaa, perintöä ja nykytilaa. Juttua varten on haastateltu “Pyhät tekstit ja traditiot muutoksessa” -huippuyksikön johtajaa Martti Nissistä sekä tiimi 1:sen jäsentä Saana Svärdiä. Artikkelissa on esillä myös Svärdin johtama uusi huippuyksikkö Muinaisen Lähi-idän imperiumit. Lisäksi Helsingin yliopiston seemiläisten kielten ja kulttuurien professori Hannu Juusola on jutussa mukana.

Yliopisto-lehden artikkelin “Lähi-idän menneisyys on loistava – miksi sieltä tulee nykyään niin huonoja uutisia?” voi lukea avoimesti verkosta.

Ancient Prophecy: Near Eastern, Greek, and Biblical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, 2017)

By Martti Nissinen.

Martti Nissinen, the director of CSTT, has just published his newest book on prophecy, which has been the main topic of his research for three decades.

Ancient Prophecy is a comprehensive treatment of the ancient prophetic phenomenon as it comes to us through biblical, Near Eastern, and Greek sources. Once a distinctly biblical concept, prophecy is today acknowledged as yet another form of divination and a phenomenon that can be found all over the ancient Eastern Mediterranean. Even Greek oracle, traditionally discussed separately from biblical and Mesopotamian prophecy, is essentially part of the same picture.

The book argues for a common category of ancient Eastern Mediterranean prophecy, even though the fragmentary and secondary nature of the sources allows only a restricted view to it. The ways prophetic divination manifests itself in ancient sources depend not only on the socio-religious position of the prophets, but also on the genre and purpose of the sources. Nissinen shows that, even though the view of the ancient prophetic landscape is restricted by the fragmentary and secondary nature of the sources, it is possible to reconstruct essential features of prophetic divination

The first part lays the theoretical foundation of the book, defining prophecy as a non-technical, or inspired, form of divination, in which the prophet acts as an intermediary of divine knowledge. It is argued that that prophecy as much a scholarly construct as a historical phenomenon documented in Near Eastern, biblical, as well as Greek textual sources. The knowledge of the historical phenomenon depends essentially on the genre and purpose of the source material which, however, is very fragmentary and, due to its secondary nature, does not yield a full and balanced picture of ancient prophecy. This chapter also discusses the purpose of comparative studies, arguing that they are necessary, not primarily to reveal the influence of one source on the other, but to identify a common category of ancient Eastern Mediterranean prophecy.

Part Two constitutes a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the available sources of the prophetic phenomenon in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean. The Near Eastern texts are presented according to textual genres: lexical lists and omen texts, legal and administrative texts, ritual texts, letters, written oracles, and literary prophecy. Most of these texts are written in Akkadian, but they also include some West Semitic, one Luwian and one Egyptian text. The Greek sources are discussed in two parts: first, the epigraphic sources such as the lead tablets from Dodona and the inscriptions from Didyma and Claros, and second, the literary sources containing narratives on consultations of the oracles at Delphi, Didyma, and Claros. Prophecy in the Hebrew Bible is presented as literature which is rooted in the prophetic phenomenon but which no longer directly documents the activity of prophets in ancient Israel and Judah.

The third part of the book consists of four comparative essays on central topics and a concluding essay. The first essay concerns prophecy and ecstasy, arguing that an altered state of consciousness was seen as a prerequisite of the prophetic performance. The second essay collects evidence of temples as venues of the prophetic performance, prophets among the temple personnel and as advocates (sometimes even critics) of temple worship. The third essay highlights the significance of prophecy for political decision-making from the point of view of royal ideology and communication between prophets and tulers, not forgetting the critical potential of prophecy. The fourth essay demonsrates that prophecy was a gendered phenomenon, but the prophetic role was not generally gender-specific, which is remarkable in the patriarchal cultures within which prophecy functioned. The concluding essay draws together the views to be seen through the “keyholes” provided by the sources, identifying the common category of prophecy in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean cultural sphere.

You can find more information about the book from the publisher’s website.

Monotheists Using Idols? About Figurines after the Fall of Jerusalem

By Izaak J. de Hulster.

My new book Figurines in Achaemenid Period Yehud attests that figurines were commonly found in post-587/586 Jerusalem. This evidence challenges common assumptions about the rise of monotheism and requires a reconsideration of classifying figurines as idols.

It seems self-evident that monotheists do not use idols. Monotheists believe in one godhead and ‘idols’ is a pejorative term for images wrongly perceived as gods – or maybe intermediaries. If the ‘idols’ are indeed rather seen as intermediaries, however, the question can gain new weight: does monotheism exclude other ‘heavenly beings’?

A strict view on (scriptural) monotheism sticks to the self-evidence of one godhead and no other heavenly beings. This approach is exemplified by Ephraim Stern’s view on the rise of Jewish monotheism. For Stern, the evidence for the establishment of monotheism in Jerusalem (and Yehud, the province of which Jerusalem was part) was his observation that no figurines (commonly interpreted as divine figures) were found in excavations related to periods post-dating the fall of Jerusalem in 587/586. Likewise, finds of terracotta figurines were taken as residual material and attributed to the time of the monarchy (so, pre-587/586). Even the figurines found during the excellent excavation under the direction of Yigal Shiloh in the so-called ‘City of David’ in layers interpreted as post-fall were attributed to earlier times. Although this earlier dating may represent the context for the production of all our known types of figurines, this should not exclude the possibility that there were figurines in post 587/586 Jerusalem.

This conscious exclusion is one of the premises of what I coin as the ‘no figurines → monotheism’ paradigm. In Stern’s version of this paradigm, after the fall of Jerusalem the inhabitants were taken into exile and the country was left empty; later they returned as a reborn nation of pious monotheistic Yahwists.

Figurines in Achaemenid period Yehud provides a detailed study of the terracotta figurines from Yigal Shiloh’s excavation in the ‘City of David’ (especially their contexts in Stratum 9), providing ample evidence for the presence of figurines in post-587/586 Jerusalem (both stratigraphical and typological, i.e. based on where these figurines were found and on how their appearance shows characteristics that connects them with other Achaemenid period ceramics). I further uncover the paradigm’s premises in history, the history of religion, theology, and biblical studies, and particularly reflect on coroplastics (figurine studies).

Having established that there were figurines in post-587/586 Jerusalem makes us return to the question: did monotheists use idols? Addressing the various fields mentioned in relation to the ‘no figurines → monotheism’ paradigm, there are a number of solutions.

First of all, the denial of figurines as evidence for a purported en masse conversion to monotheism can be unmasked as an identity making (and identity marking) ‘myth of the reborn nation’. Second, those who interpret figurines in the shape of a woman (gynemorphic) as a goddess should give account for the horse-and-riders, pieces of furniture, and the many animal figurines, by which the gynemorphic ones are outnumbered. Furthermore, figurines might not have presented idols or there may have been other reasons explaining why and how terracotta figurines could have been combined with the ideas about the one godhead during the rise of Jewish monotheism, possibly, even as vehicles (intermediaries) of the One’s blessings.

Check out the new book by Izaak J. de Hulster Figurines in Achaemenid period Yehud: Jerusalem’s history of religion and coroplastics in the monotheism debate (ORA 26; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, November 2017)

“Women’s Writing of Ancient Mesopotamia” (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

Saana Svärd, member of CSTT Team 1, has just published her newest book, an anthology of the earliest woman writers, together with Charles Halton.

“Women’s Writing of Ancient Mesopotamia presents fresh and engaging translations of works that were composed or edited by female scribes and elite women of the ancient Near East. These texts provide insight into the social status, struggles, and achievements of women during the earliest periods of recorded human history (c.2300–540 BCE). In three introductory chapters and a concluding chapter, Charles Halton and Saana Svärd provide an overview of the civilization of ancient Mesopotamia and examine gender by analyzing these different kinds of texts. The translations cover a range of genres, including hymns, poems, prayers, letters, inscriptions, and oracles. Each text is accompanied by a short introduction that situates the composition within its ancient environment and explores what it reveals about the lives of women within the ancient world. This anthology will serve as an essential reference book for scholars and students of ancient history, gender studies, and world literature.”

You can find more information about the book here.

If you are yet not familiar with the new Centre of Excellence “Ancient Near Eastern Empires”, led by Svärd, please visit their excellent website here.

“CSTT and Gender” e-booklet

From June to August 2017, we have hosted on our website a forum discussion on various aspects related to “gender”. The papers by Saana Svärd and Hanna Tervanotko, Rick Bonnie, Francis Borchardt, and Anneli Aejmelaeus that were posted on our website were originally presented during the last Annual Meeting in May 2018 in Tvärminne, Finland. Continue reading “CSTT and Gender” e-booklet

Trading in the Babylonian Exile

by Tero Alstola

This blog post is a summary of Tero Alstola’s recent article “Judean Merchants in Babylonia and Their Participation in Long-Distance Trade” in Die Welt des Orients 47 (2017), pp. 25–51. https://doi.org/10.13109/wdor.2017.47.1.25.

The Babylonian exile of Judeans does not equal to enslavement and miserable conditions in a foreign land. The available sources attest to remarkable diversity within the deported population: although the majority of Judeans worked as small farmers, some of them lived in cities, enjoyed a good socio-economic status, and were integrated into Babylonian society. Judean merchants are an example of exiles who did relatively well in Babylonia. Continue reading Trading in the Babylonian Exile

Eläimellistä menoa Mesopotamiassa: Gilgamesh-eepos muinaisen eläinsuhteen ilmentäjänä

Kirjoittanut Timo Tekoniemi

Eläimet muodostivat olennaisen osan ihmisten elämää ja elinpiiriä jo vuosituhansia sitten, ja usein ihmiset jopa asuivat samoissa tiloissa kotieläinten kanssa. Kulttuurintutkimuksessa on kuitenkin perinteisesti oltu kiinnostuneempia ihmisen toiminnasta, joten eläimet ovat monessa mielessä jääneet tutkimuksessa paitsioon. Muinaisia tekstejä lukiessa kuitenkin nopeasti huomaa, miten täynnä erilaista eläinkuvastoa teokset ovatkaan. Pelkkien kuvainnollisten ”koristeiden” sijaan eläimet saavat esimerkiksi muinaisessa Gilgamesh-eepoksessa hyvinkin monisyisiä ja jopa juonenkuljetuksellisesti tärkeitä merkityksiä ja rooleja. Continue reading Eläimellistä menoa Mesopotamiassa: Gilgamesh-eepos muinaisen eläinsuhteen ilmentäjänä

Isaiah’s Benevolent Creator as the earliest Persian ‘Influence’ on Judaism

by Jason M. Silverman

This post is a summary of the recently published article, Jason M. Silverman, “Achaemenid Creation and Second Isaiah” Journal of Persianate Studies 10.1 (2017): 26–48. In two years, it will also be available on my academia.edu-profile. Continue reading Isaiah’s Benevolent Creator as the earliest Persian ‘Influence’ on Judaism

“Vulnerability and Valour: A Gendered Analysis of Everyday Life in the Dead Sea Scrolls Communities” (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017)

Jessica M. Keady (2017) Vulnerability and Valour: A Gendered Analysis of Everyday Life in the Dead Sea Scrolls Communities. Library of Second Temple Studies 91. London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark.

Jessica M. Keady uses insights from social science and gender theory to shed light on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Qumran communities. Through her analysis, Keady shows that it was not only women who could be viewed as an impure problem, but also that men shared these characteristics as well.

The first framework adopted by Keady is masculinity studies, specifically Raewyn Connell’s hegemonic masculinities, which Keady applies to the Rule of the Community (in its 1QS form) and the War Scroll (in its 1QM form), to demonstrate the vulnerable and uncontrollable aspects of ordinary male impurities. Secondly, the embodied and empowered aspects of impure women are revealed through an application of embodiment theories to selected passages from 4QD (4Q266 and 4Q272) and 4QTohorot A (4Q274). Thirdly, sociological insights from Susie Scott’s understanding of the everyday – through the mundane, the routing and the breaking of rules – reveal how impurity disrupts the constructions of daily life. Keady applies Scott’s three conceptual features for understanding the everyday to the Temple Scroll (11QTa) and the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa) to demonstrate the changing dynamics between ordinary impurity males and impure females.

Underling each of these three points is the premise that gender and purity in the Dead Sea Scrolls communities are performative, dynamic and constantly changing.

To order this book please visit Bloomsbury Publishing.