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The Deification and Demonization of Tĕhôm: From Deity to Deep

  • Author(s): Lu, Rosanna
  • Advisor(s): Schniedewind, William M
  • et al.
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The concept of primeval waters (Tĕhôm) in the Hebrew Bible has been difficult to define, resulting in speculation over its identity as a deity, place, or monster. Previous scholarship has focused heavily on Tĕhôm's creation context to the exclusion of its ritual context. As a result, Tĕhôm has been unduly linked to the Mesopotamian Tiamat and interpreted as the embodiment of chaos and conflict. This research addresses the limitations of previous scholarship by examining all contexts of the Hebrew Bible's Deep and comparing them with references in ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Canaanite (Ugaritic) texts. Comparative methodology combined with a history of religions approach places the concept of primeval Deep in its ancient Near Eastern context as a source of deified power; this concept transforms into a demonized place of judgment in biblical tradition. Beginning with the ANE context for Tĕhôm,each chapter analyzes occurrences of primeval Deep under the following categories—Deification (2), Personification (3), Subjugation (4), and Demonization (5)—to show Tĕhôm's development from deity to deep (abyss).

Tĕhôm appears as a source of power and blessing in early texts of the Hebrew Bible, and its personification distinctly deifies ancient Israel's deity Yahweh rather than itself. Next, Tĕhôm's personification as subjugated monster symbolically represents ancient Israel's enemies and justifies Yahweh's power to judge or deliver. The motif of a subjugated Deep legitimates a subjugator's rule, justifies conquest, confers power to human representatives, and empowers ancient people to face their fears. Lastly, in subsequent text-communities of the DSS, LXX, and Targums, Tĕhôm becomes a demonized place of evil. Rabbinic literature expands traditions of Tĕhôm's origins and end time purposes to reflect apocalyptic interpretations of Jewish eschatology. Tĕhôm's fluidity as a concept allows it to grow and change according to the needs of its religious community. Despite its interpretive development, it remains a constant reminder and expression of ancient Israel's relationship to Yahweh. Ultimately, Tĕhôm's evolution from deity to deep reflects the creation of a distinct religious identity centered on Yahweh—the deity who transcends phenomena, situation, time, and place.

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This item is under embargo until December 14, 2020.