Book of Genesis,
Sumerian & Akkadian literature
This thesis contends that myth served the role of speculative philosophy for ancient Near Eastern peoples and examines some of the implications, particularly hermeneutical implications, of the claim. The Introduction presents a case for using the Sumerian mythographic tradition as a control, an introduction to the field of mythography, and the problem of viewing ancient Near Eastern myth through the lens of Western, particularly Hellenistic, views of myth. Chapter One is an overview of the influential mythographers of the last two hundred years and their writings. Emphasis is placed on functionalist approaches to myth as functionalism is the aspect of ancient Near Eastern myth being addressed in this thesis. Chapter Two is the heart of the thesis and presents the case for speculative philosophy as a dominant function, but not the only function, of ancient Near Eastern myth. The ways in which rational-instrumental thought contrasts with analogical reasoning are unpacked and the case is made that one does not preclude the other. Divination is presented as a (counter-intuitive) example of rational-instrumental thought and a brief excursus on analogical vs. rational-instrumental thought in Genesis 4 is provided to help make the distinction concrete and to model the hermeneutical implications of the distinction. Chapters Three and Four present case studies. The first (Chapter Three) is the Sumerian myth Gilgamesh and Huwawa and the second (Chapter Four) is the Babel story of Genesis 11:1-9. Both case studies are presented for two reasons: 1) To demonstrate that I am not an outside theorist but have gained the expertise to handle the materials in the original languages; and 2) To provide concrete examples of the hermeneutical implications of the claims made in Chapter Two. A note of concern: The order of the chapters of the dissertation could give the impression that I developed a theory and then tried to apply it to the data (in this case, texts). In actuality I developed the theory from immersing myself in the texts.