Foetal Dystocia resulting from Watcher-Human Sex: Eric Ondina’s Art

In a piece entitled “Fall of the Watchers”, artist Eric Ondina has managed to capture an aspect of the myth of sex between Watcher angels and human women that usually gets glossed over in renditions of the story.

Eric Ondina, “Fall of the Watchers”

The Book of Watchers tersely summarises that the Watchers “took” the women, “went into” them, and “defiled themselves with” them (7.1ab). The twenty named Watchers are contrasted with the anonymous and unnamed women who they “choose for themselves”. The Watchers act, and the unnamed women are acted upon. Their identities are suppressed, irrelevant to their function within the plot. Their reactions here are limited to their childbearing function: they “became pregnant” and “bore to them gigantic offspring” (7.2).

But what did giving birth to “gigantic offspring” do to these women? The text falls silent, in contrast to the cries of anguish which would have accompanied such extreme foetal dystocia. The birth canal is only important in the story insofar as it satisfies the Watchers’ desires – for sexual intercourse and for children.

But in Ondina’s “Fall of the Watchers”, the effect on the Women is brought to the fore in the artist’s portrayal of an evidently painful, bulging womb. But this pain is combined with a comical characterisation of the women as obsessed with the jewellery that the Watchers gave to them. The combination of extreme discomfort and vain satisfaction is, of course, absurd. And this absurdity provides a visual critique of the tendency in the Watcher myth to belittle or even blame women for the actions of the Watchers.

Ondina himself comments:

I have extracted multiple motifs from this story and melded them into a dynamic composition. The piece is painted in oil on a hand molded, cresting, reinforced plaster slab, which is bordered by a deep cradle frame. It was my intention to make a painting which mirrors this mini-epic in scale, drama and abject gruesomeness. With this in mind I decided to invoke the compositional and painting techniques found in the dynamic baroque of the 17th century while emulating the decisive moment found in 18th century Romanticism. There is also a clear reference to the Northern European Renaissance in the detail, cathedral-esque shape of the substrate, insider humor, and violence. These fuse into a style I have developed in this series which is both contemporary and historically reinforced. While my painting seeks to provide a portal into the past, I seek to do so through a modern lens, injecting subtle to sardonic satire into my subjects. This is readily apparent along the bottom of the painting; in the lower right hand corner an oblivious woman pampers herself with gold and makeup, her stomach bursting at the seams as her hulking half-angel broodling slithers out. She is a sarcastic embodiment of how our contemporary sensitivities are want to perceive this story. The Abrahamic religions are not renowned for their justice towards women, and The Book of Enoch once again exemplifies this ancient trend. Women are the seductresses and the baby factories, the intermediaries and cause of the sinfulness pressed upon the world; because of their erotic allure, mankind suffered nightmarish consequences. My painted jezebel is a mocking testimony to this ancient fear-mongering.

In portraying this extreme foetal dystocia in this manner, Ondina’s “Fall of the Watchers” has drawn attention to an aspect of the Watcher myth that has escaped many commentators, as well as critiquing that very failure to take account of the effects on women implied by the Watcher myth.

JoAnn Scurlock: Evidence from Babylon that “Rephaim” refers to the long dead?

I spotted an interesting observation about Rephaim from JoAnn Scurlock, in “Mortal and Immortal Souls, Ghosts and the (Restless) Dead in Ancient Mesopotamia”, Religion Compass 10, no. 4 (2016): 77–82 (79). She is discussing how Ancient Mesopotamians treated the dead.

Having a family tomb under the floor of the house made funerary offerings by the family as a group a simple matter as long as the family survived or new owners of the house continued to use the tomb. What would happen then is that, as the memory of the deceased faded and the bones of the long dead mingled with those of more recent arrivals, the individual eøemmu’s [‘ghosts’] melded into a common eøem kimti (Scurlock 2013, pp. 151–152). Eventually, this collective ancestor mixed with the wider community of the long dead, the kimtu rapaåtu, literally ‘widespread relations’. Of interest to Biblical scholars puzzled by the term rephaim is the fact that an old Babylonian commentary (5R 44: 121 [sic]) uses the term kimtu rapaåtu to translate Amorite rapi (singular of rephaim). This would seem to indicate that the mysterious Rephaim are the ghosts of persons who have been dead for a very long time.

“5R 44” (or “VR 44”) is a so-called Name Book from Ashurbanipal’s library (Ashurbanipal was an Assyrian king who reigned 668-627 BC). The text provides a list of Akkadian translations of non-Akkadian names. The reference is to column 1 line 21, so there should have been a gap in the cited reference followed by a Roman numeral: 5R 44: I 21.

5R 44: I 21 reads mḪa-am-mu-ra-pí : mKim-ta-ra-pa-áš-tum, the meaning of each name being “great family” or as CAD K has it (p. 377, s.v. kimtu), “extensive family”. The “ra-pi” means “great/extensive”, and ‘Ammu means “family”. So “rapi” itself does not refer to the long dead.

In the Bible, the Rephaim are either peoples discovered as inhabiting Canaan and neighbouring territories when the Israelites invade (so are long dead from the perspective of the writers) or, in poetic and prophetic books, are long-dead inhabitants of the netherworld. In 5R 44, they are also described as “kings”, another feature in common with many biblical Rephaim, and more consistent with the meaning of “great”.

InterVarsity Press, SBL, and Rumors of a Ban

IVP Academic:

Just today, InterVarsity Press claimed:

For 70 years, IVP has been committed to fostering dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas
– Jeff Crosby, InterVarsity Press

This is great news, although admittedly surprising to me – because I’ve been looking for a publisher for some rather radical new biblical criticism I want to have published.

Yesterday, Michael Bird leaked the possibility that IVP’s bookstall might be banned from the SBL annual meeting and Jim West leaked parts of a letter from John Kutsko of SBL to InterVarsity Press, in which Kutsko expressed the desire to discuss the future IVP exhibits at the annual meeting. This all follows a Time Magazine report on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA’s decision to fire employees who disagree with its Position Paper on sexuality. IVP’s sex position is still firm (i.e. the gays are bad).

Expectedly, evangelicals have become outraged at the possibility of discrimination against a discriminatory employer, and insist that this is all to do with academic freedom, and nothing to do with their homophobia. There’s a concerned article in the conservative evangelical World magazine, a response by Michael J. Kruger of the Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina called “How My Books are Being Banned at the Society of Biblical Literature“, and conservative blogger and radio host Erick Erickson announces in alarmist terms that “The Society of Biblical Literature Is Now Banning Christian Organizations“. Christianity Today reports on Michael Bird’s blog post, Rod Dreher of The American Conservative deplores “The Power Of The LGBT Seal Of Approval“, and Albert Mohler (president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) claims that the “secular left” has become more intolerant than the Christian evangelicals who are firing pro-gays from their jobs and that the SBL has “trended to the left” over the years and now wishes to ban any group not committed to “the biblical truth” of gender, marriage, and sexuality.

But as for the question of whether IVP should have a space at the SBL annual meeting? Well, I agree with Noam Chomsky, and not just because I want IVP to display my forthcoming book. A few decades ago, Chomsky said, in defending a famous French holocaust denier’s right to express his denial of the Jewish holocaust:

It is elementary that freedom of expression (including academic freedom) is not to be restricted to views of which one approves, and that it is precisely in the case of views that are almost universally despised and condemned that this right must be most vigorously defended.

Thank God that IVP share this commitment to fostering dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas. I’ll send my book proposal in soon.

Og the Giant’s Memoirs now on Chabad.org

King Og of Bashan has written down his life experiences, and they appear on Chabad.org!

I have lived a long life, and it is difficult to remember all that I have experienced. I am forever indebted to the Jewish people for being so diligent in their note-taking and for making sure that history is not forgotten. My story can be pieced together from accounts recorded in their texts, both in the written Torah, as well as in the collection of teachings known as the Midrash.

Shaul Wolf (not King Og)
Shaul Wolf (not King Og)

You can have a read of Og’s memoirs here. It seems that Chabad.org staff writer Shaul Wolf has helped him compile his memoirs from Genesis, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Genesis Rabbah, Targums Jonathan and Onkelos, the Talmud, Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer, Nahmanides (Ramban), Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam), Maimonides (Rambam), Abraham ibn Ezra, Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), Daat Zekeinim and Baal HaTurim.

Can we distinguish the Christ of Faith from the Man of History?

Elliot R. Wolfson writes:

Prima facie, one might suppose that since we are dealing with a contemporary personality, in contrast to studying an individual from the distant past, the scholar should be able to separate the wheat of historical fact from the chaff of pious embellishment. The judiciousness of this expectation notwithstanding, it seems that chronological proximity does not alleviate the methodological problem…. It does not seem tenable to sever the realistic from the fictional in a clear-cut way, as the latter is what engenders the former…. To state the matter openly, though not as nuanced as I would like, it is not apparent to me that any methodology can presume to divest the Rebbe of his garb as rebbe, so that the person of Menaḥem Mendel Schneerson will come into clear view.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me state unequivocally that I do not deny that there are more and less reliable sources, nor am I suggesting that it is impossible to ascertain any historical information about the Rebbe’s life outside of his persona as the movement’s leader. Of course, this is possible, as other scholars have already demonstrated. What I am arguing, however, is that the very notion of a Ḥasidic rebbe must be understood as a composite figure, a corporate entity, if you will, a man whose identity is configured by his followers and perhaps also by his opponents….

Even the more sober attempts to treat the Rebbe or the movement in scientifically
verifiable terms cannot free themselves entirely from the grip of hagiography.
Simply put, without that there would be no framework within which to study the life of Menaḥem Mendel Schneerson, and this is as true for the scholar as it is for the partisan. Attempts to penetrate through the shroud of hagiography are futile, if it is presumed that one can remove that shroud entirely to observe some naked historical truth. The only truth that may be observed is truth garbed in the appearance of truth.

– Elliot R. Wolfson, Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menaḥem Mendel Schneerson (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), pp. 13-14.

Rebbe Menaḥem Mendel Schneerson died only 20 years ago – although his followers believe he has been exalted to heaven, where he intercedes for them, and many of them believe that he will return at the end of the age, as the Messiah.

Thomas Römer on the composition of the Hebrew Bible and Mamma Mia!

thomas_romer
In “Autopsie de la Bible” (31 August 2016), French journal Témoignage chrétien interviews Professor Thomas Römer, chair of The Hebrew Bible and its Contexts at the Collège de France. It’s a good read.

And at the end, there is a section in which Thomas Römer explains the composition of the Hebrew Bible by comparing it to the use of Abba songs in the film Mamma Mia!

Thomas Römer earlier made the comparison with Mamma Mia! in his Inaugural Lecture at the Collège de France (5 February 2009). Although the movie is getting a bit old, his use of it was obviously memorable – and, dare I say it, more memorable than the movie itself. Have a look at my earlier Remnant of Giants post, where I transcribed and translated that part of his Inaugural Lecture.

Here’s the relevant part of his more recent Témoignage chrétien interview:

 

THE PENTATEUCH AND MAMMA MIA!

Interviewer: In your “Inaugural Lecture,” you explained that the Pentateuch was constructed a little like the musical film Mamma Mia!

Thomas Römer: Yes, this was at the time that this film was released. For its screenplay, the film constructed a fairly banal story from different songs of the group Abba. The songs originally had no connection, neither chronological nor thematic. But the screenplay devised a fictional marriage to impose order on songs whose only connection was to have been written by the same composers and sung by the same group. And the result was a movie with a story loosely hung together.

It seemed to me that the image was useful to show how traditions of the Pentateuch which were unrelated in the original were linked together. On the one hand, you have the history of the world, with its grand narratives, the creation of the world, of man, the Flood, Babel; disparate narratives that have no other link between them except to imagine the origins of the world and humanity. Then there are the narratives of the Patriarchs. Again, they were told separately at first: the adventures of Jacob, of Isaac, of Abraham. And Joseph is yet another story. These stories have the same literary genre, but they were not written to follow each other. Jacob is probably the the most ancient story and Abraham came last. But in the Bible, they chose to put Abraham first.

The stories of the Patriarchs and the stories of the Exodus were, at the beginning, not linked at all. In the stories of the Patriarchs, importance is placed on descent, on genealogy – but in the story of Exodus, genealogies disappear. Even Moses was not an ancestor. He has sons of whom we do not know at all what become of them. In the episode of the golden calf, God said, “I will destroy all these people and I will make of thee a great nation.” But Moses refuses to become an ancestor. This is a profound reflection on a question in emerging Judaism: how are we Jewish? Because we descended from Abraham, from Isaac, from Jacob? Or because we keep the commandments that Moses transmitted at Sinai?

LE PENTATEUQUE ET MAMA MIA

Lors de votre « Leçon inaugurale », vous avez expliqué que le Pentateuque était un peu fabriqué comme le film musical Mama Mia.

Oui, c’était au moment où ce film est sorti. Pour son scénario, on a construit une histoire assez banale à partir des différentes chansons du groupe Abba. Les chansons, à l’origine n’avaient aucun lien ni chronologique ni thématique. Mais le scénario du film a imaginé une rocambolesque histoire de mariage pour imposer un ordre à des chansons dont le seul lien était d’avoir été composées par les mêmes auteurs et chantées par le même groupe. Et à l’arrivée, on a un film avec une histoire qui se tient à peu près.

Il m’a semblé que l’image était utile pour montrer comment les traditions du Pentateuque, avaient été reliées entre elles alors qu’elles n’avaient aucun lien à l’origine. D’une part, vous avez l’histoire du monde, avec les grands récits, création du monde, de l’homme, Déluge, Tour de Babel ; récits disparates qui n’ont pas d’autre lien entre eux que d’imaginer les origines du monde et de l’humanité. Puis, il y a les récits des Patriarches. Là aussi, on avait raconté de manière séparée d’abord les aventures de Jacob, d’Isaac, d’Abraham. Et Joseph est encore une autre histoire. Ces récits ont le même genre littéraire, mais ils n’ont pas été écrits pour se suivre. Jacob est probablement l’histoire la plus ancienne et Abraham, le dernier venu. Or dans la Bible, on a choisi de mettre Abraham d’abord.

Les histoires des Patriarches et les histoires de l’Exode, à l’origine, ne sont pas du tout liées. Dans les histoires patriarcales, l’importance est mise sur la descendance, sur la généalogie, alors que dans le récit de l’Exode, les généalogies dispa – raissent. Même Moïse n’est pas un ancêtre. Il a des fils dont on ne sait pas du tout ce qu’ils deviennent. Dans l’épisode du veau d’or, Dieu dit « Je vais exterminer tout ce peuple et je ferai avec toi un grand peuple ». Mais Moïse refuse de devenir un ancêtre. C’est une réflexion profonde sur une question du judaïsme naissant; comment est-on juif ? Parce qu’on descend d’Abraham, d’Isaac, de Jacob ? Ou parce qu’on observe les commandements que Moïse a transmis au Sinaï ?