Circumcising the Mouth of Moses: The Idolatrous Status of Yahweh's Mediator Among the Idols of Ancient Mesopotamia
Date of Award
Religious and Theological Studies
Mark K. George, Ph.D.
Ancient Mesopotamian religion, Aniconism, Bible, Comparative method, Idols and idolatry, Ancient Mesopotamia, Moses
The thesis of this dissertation is that in the defining moment in which he is transformed from "uncircumcised of lips" to "god to Pharaoh" (Ex 6:28-7:1), Moses is best understood as Yahweh's idol, undergoing a status change akin to the induction ritual for ancient Mesopotamian idols, the Mīs Pȋ ("Washing/Purifying of the Mouth"). To make this point, I argue that Moses and idols be compared with respect to their status as mediator between divine and human realms. With their respective status changes, not only are idols and Moses transformed on an ontological level, but so are their relationships to their deities and communities.
The major insights gained through this comparison are made possible by my comparative method. The resulting, new reading of Moses's status change challenges religious and scholarly traditions pertaining to Moses's development, including the notion that the burning bush scene constitutes Moses's transformation. By highlighting how Moses is portrayed as Yahweh's idol, I also complicate the traditional understanding of Moses as Yahweh's servant, lawgiver, and prophet. Moses's status as idol explains the unique features of his character and role within the Hebrew Bible, including the horns or rays of light emanating from his face (Exod 34:29-35) and his special position with respect to Yahweh, the tabernacle, and Israelite society (Num 12:1-9).
This comparison also provides a case study in the role historical context plays in the portrayal of religious figures and the formation of religious systems. The ways in which Moses both fits and does not fit the model of mediation represented by Mesopotamian idols speaks to one of the major projects of the biblical authors: to inspire their audience to move from idol-centered polytheism to aniconism and, eventually, monotheism. This move became even more desirable against the backdrop of sixth- century Babylon, in which the idol of Marduk and the story of Moses were in direct competition. Thus, on my reading, the biblical portrayal of Moses is not only patterned after ancient Mesopotamian idols in general, but emerges in direct historical conversation with one specific idol, that of the god Marduk.
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Balogh, Amy L., "Circumcising the Mouth of Moses: The Idolatrous Status of Yahweh's Mediator Among the Idols of Ancient Mesopotamia" (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1131.
Received from ProQuest
Amy L. Balogh
Comparative Religion, Biblical Studies, Near Eastern Studies
Biblical Studies Commons, Comparative Methodologies and Theories Commons, Near Eastern Languages and Societies Commons