What I learned from my BA

Gonna talk about some things I learned about the Bible and its world in my BA in Ancient Near Eastern studies, which I finished last year.

My dissertation was on the role of megafauna in the culture of the ancient Near East (focus on the Ivory trade). What I learned is that Lynn White Jr was wrong, or at least highly simplifying by laying the blame of the ecological crisis largely on Genesis.

I fail to see how Assyrian hunting records are any better. The king was ‘commanded’ by the gods to hunt massive amounts of animals. One king even brags about slaughtering 1200 aurochsen in a single hunt. That this is clearly an idealised number only makes things worse. It is ‘ideal’ to slaughter these huge amounts, because the gods command.

However, this got me wondering as to what Genesis 1:28 may have initially meant. I note that both Genesis 1 and the Assyrian annals (which appeal to the war gods Ninurta and Nergal) use military language, at the command of the gods. I conclude that a connection most likely exists.

Which to my mind makes the Genesis 1:28 a lot harder to understand literally.

Personally I’ve found the patristic allegorical understanding of this verse (which predominated before the Early Modern Period) helpful here, in helping us to make use of the verse, rather than ignore it condemn it. The allegory is that we are to ‘subdue’ our animal instincts and passions.

Many more things (which I might discuss later in the thread), but this might suffice for now.


Thanks for the research. Re: Gen 1:28 It’s never been clear to me how to rule over the “birds in the sky”, or “fish in the sea” - I just couldn’t visualize it. I assume the Assyrian connection you found is “rule” = “kill lots of”. The Patristic allegorical understanding is interesting, but quite bit of a leap above the words of the text, so I would guess it had a simpler, more direct interpretation originally.

To be clear, by no means do I think the patristic understanding was the original meaning (at least, not by the human author, God can, within reason, intend multiple readings)

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