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The Conflict Myth and the Biblical Tradition

There are many ancient West Asian stories that narrate the victory of a warrior deity over an enemy, typically a sea-god or sea dragon, and his rise to divine kingship. In The Conflict Myth and the Biblical Tradition, Debra Scoggins Ballentine analyzes this motif, arguing that it was used within ancient political and socio-religious discourses to bolster particular divine hierarchies, kings, institutions, and groups, as well as to attack others. Situating her study of the conflict topos within contemporary theorizations of myth by Bruce Lincoln, Russell McCutcheon, and Jonathan Z. Smith, Ballentine examines narratives of divine combat and instances of this conflict motif. Her study cuts across traditional disciplinary boundaries as well as constructed time periods, focusing not only on the Hebrew Bible but also incorporating Mesopotamian, early Jewish, early Christian, and rabbinic texts, spanning a period of almost three millennia - from the eighteenth century BCE to the early middle ages CE. The Conflict Myth and the Biblical Tradition advances our understanding of the conflict topos in ancient west Asian and early Jewish and Christian literatures and of how mythological and religious ideas are used both to validate and render normative particular ideologies and socio-political arrangements, and to delegitimize and invalidate others.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ; I. Theorizing Myth in Ancient West Asian Studies ; Myth Theory ; Biblical Scholarship and the Category of Myth ; Terminology ; The Ancient West Asian Milieu and the Comparative Enterprise ; II. The Conflict Topos in Extant Narratives ; Anzu ; Enuma Elish ; Assur version of Enuma Elish ; Ba'lu Cycle ; Comparisons and Narrative Taxonomy ; Conclusion ; III. The Conflict Motif ; Victorious Warrior Deities: 'Anatu, Ba'lu, and Yahweh ; Yahweh's Combat against the Sea/Dragon and Its Relevance for Humans ; Divine Combat within Historiography: Combined Conflict and Exodus Motifs ; Yahweh vs. Human Enemies: Combat with Contemporary "Dragons" ; The Temple ; The Conflict Motif and Royal Figures ; Conclusion ; IV. Continued Adaptation, The Conflict Motif and the Eschaton ; Hebrew Bible Eschatological Battles ; Revelation ; Jesus/Christos as the Divine Warrior ; Leviathan and Behemoth in the Eschaton and More Eschatological Battles ; The "Holy One" vs. the Prince of the Sea ; Conclusion ; V. The Motif of Yahweh's Authority over the Sea and the Legitimacy of Individuals: Claiming vs. Having Power over the Sea ; Jesus ; Antiochus IV Epiphanes ; Gamaliel ; Conclusion ; VI. Conclusion ; Leave "Chaos" Out of It ; The Conflict Topos, Distinctions and Comparisons ; Notes ; Bibliography ; Index

About the Author

Debra Scoggins Ballentine is an assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Rutgers, where she teaches courses on the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern religions.


Ballentine's book represents comparative work at its best. Her sophisticated theoretical underpinnings are clearly and concisely explained. * Jonathan Kearney, Journal for the Study of the New Testament * Ballentine's keen study is groundbreaking with its comprehensive analysis of the combat myth as ideological production. Building on the work of Bruce Lincoln and Jonathan Z. Smith on how myths encode hierarchical taxonomies, Ballentine deftly articulates the legitimizing and delegitimizing ideology of the conflict topos. Ballentine's nuanced and wide-ranging research (covering the combat myth from the Middle Bronze Age to the rabbinic period) will prove enlightening for all historians of religion. * Theodore J. Lewis, Blum-Iwry Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Johns Hopkins University * Debra Scoggins Ballantine has written a work of great insight, a sophisticated study that challenges us to rethink our existing understandings of the conflict myth in its various iterations. She navigates a wide spectrum of sources and builds a case with an equal measure of scholarly rigor and imagination. This is a major contribution and will find a central place in the ongoing discussion in the field. * Mark Leuchter, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism, Temple University * This is the most comprehensive discussion to date of the Conflict/Combat Myth in the Bible in the ancient Near East. It is also the first such study that is informed by the modern discussion of myth. A very useful book. * John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament, Yale University * [An] intelligent and clearly written book...It will make its deservedly many readers curious about topics and perspectives that the book introduces and explores. It is a fine introduction for advanced students to the wide array of relevant texts and other works that feature the conflict myth and its motifs and an important conversation partner for scholars in the field. * Journal of Religion and Violence * The discussion is explorative, suggestive, but careful in its final claims. The gains of each chapter build a compelling case for the ideological use of the conflict topos both within and outside of myths. But the primary value of the work seems to be in assessing the myths themselves; demonstrating the recasting that takes place within the myths and their later forms; and, in some cases, illustrating how the conflict topos was used for ideological purposes echoed in historical circumstances. * Journal of Religion *

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