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Chapter 12 - Divine Labour

from Part III - Difference

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2021

Adrian Kelly
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
Christopher Metcalf
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
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Summary

This chapter examines a peculiar theme in divine narratives, according to which human beings at one time replaced the gods as workers. The author considers the occurrence of this theme in the Akkadian poem Atrahasīs, the opening of the Biblical book of Genesis and early Greek epic, especially the Iliad. The comparison illustrates that authors and audiences in the ancient world shared not just stories about the gods but also some of the larger questions that made them important. We cannot always tell how the stories travelled but we can certainly understand better how the texts work by considering the narrative resources they share. In particular, the theme of divine labour allows us to appreciate how the Mesopotamian, Israelite and Greek traditions created important, and distinctively different, transitions in the shared history of gods and humans, and how the very concept of the gods at work gave rise, within each tradition, to implicit or explicit criticism and to consequent attempts to rewrite the story, or at least to contain its supposedly undesirable theological implications.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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