Neo-Babylonian Rock Reliefs and the Jewish Literary Imagination

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This chapter outlines a mythological array of motifs and ideas, which was shared by Jewish apocalyptic authors and some contemporary non-Jewish authors in the Hellenistic-Roman period in the Levant. This mythology focused on pre-diluvian times but was also deeply concerned with the less-distant past of the great empires Assyria and Babylonia. The themes of this mythology were the creation of human civilization by various culture heroes and the dichotomy between civilization and the wild, the latter being depicted as sinning angles. Jewish texts cast these themes within the mythology of the flood and the story of the angels, thus strengthening the Jewish national identity within the Hellenistic cultural amalgam. The main innovation in this chapter is that the Jewish mythology concerning Watchers (i.e., fallen, rebellious angels) gained inspiration from the royal reliefs carved by Nebu-chadnezzar in Lebanon, especially in the site of Brisa. It thus had a strong regional anchoring in the mountain ranges of the Lebanon and anti-Lebanon. These reliefs, showing the king worshipping astral deities, cutting a tree in Lebanon and fighting a lion, acquired a second layer of meaning, in addition to their “original” meaning based on the royal Mesopotamian iconography. In this new layer, the king functions as a fallen angel and operates the above-mentioned mythological themes as an angelic agent. The link between the Jewish texts and the rock reliefs is demonstrated by a series of examples from the Book of Jubilees (Chapter 8), The Book of Daniel (Chapter 4), the Book of Watchers in 1 Enoch, and the Book of Giants (the Aramaic fragments and the Jewish Medieval transmission). The present study firmly anchors the early Jewish texts in their context in the Hellenistic Levant.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAfterlives of Ancient Rock-cut Monuments in the Near East
Subtitle of host publicationCarvings in and out of Time
EditorsJonathan Ben-Dov, Felipe Rojas
Place of PublicationLeiden, The Netherlands
Number of pages35
ISBN (Electronic)9789004462083
ISBN (Print)9789004462076
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NameCulture and History of the Ancient Near East


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