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"A wild man"

By Razib KhanNovember 7, 2006 4:06 AM


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I recently re-read the Epic of Gilgamesh. This translation was particularly helpful in that there were notations next to passages with clear parallels in the Hebrew Bible (in Genesis). I thought about this when I watched a YouTube clip of Richard Dawkins confront Ted Haggard last year about his beliefs. Haggard, a successful pastor, seemed totally oblivious to the outside world in his intellectal worldview. For example, he states that there are "no contradictions in the Bible," a work "written over 1,500 years by 40 authors." And yet reading the Epic of Gilgamesh how could one not but see the resemblence between the wild man Enkidu and some of the characters in the bible, particular hairy Esau and Ishmael whose hand was against all other men? Of course, there are the explicit textual correspondences in regards to the flood story. I've read a fair amount of commentary on the Hebrew Bible over the years and there's a lot of interesting textual archeology in there. For example, we all know about Jacob wrestling with "God".* This entity must take leave at daybreak, and to the reader this might be puzzling, but Assyriologists note that in the Semitic religions of the time there was often a vampire-like quality of the divinities insofar as their power was constrained to either day or night, or times of the year. It seems possible that the entity that Jacob wrestled was simply making the rational calculation in negotiating an escape before daylight.I know that most believers are not literalists, and yet it seems that naive literalists have a loud voice in our culture today. Frankly, I am a little depressed when I think of this, this isn't rocket science, and much of it is quite fascinating and makes intelligible 'mysteries' within the text. Ultimately, in an ironic twist, I believe that the 'fundamentalist' denial of the historical context of the text allows them to interpret it how they wish to based on their subjective needs for the here and now, rather than seeing the stories and passages in their proper historical frame with a sharper and more accurate informed lens.* Whether you believe this is God, or an emenation, or angel, depends on your personal interpretation of the evidence and your beliefs (it seems blasphemous for many modern monotheists that God himself would deign to wrestle with a man).

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