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”.


SBL on Monday, or Eurocentric Biblical Studies

San Francisco

Monday highlights at the 2011 Society of Biblical Literature conference:

1. The African-American Biblical Hermeneutics section was the absolute stand-out section of the day. Discussing a small handful of rabbinic texts that are prejudicial in some way towards blacks (texts for which we no longer have the context to pinpoint), the section included a wide-ranging and highly informed discussion of racism and racialism within Eurocentric Biblical Studies. Brilliant.

2. W. David Nelson (African-American Biblical Hermeneutics section) opined that the only sensible way forward in (Eurocentric) Biblical Studies is reception history – practised not in the usual textual-philological manner, but with a sociological-historical basis as well. Now that is exactly right.

3. The condescending tones of JoAnn Scurlock at the review of Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s Land of Our Fathers, who began her reply to Dr Stavrakopoulou by pointing out that one should do sufficient research before writing books and that she was a Professor.

4. An invigorating and wide-ranging discussion with Dr Stavrakopoulou later in the evening, much later in fact, including a largely negative assessment of those who would provide detailed historical research as a way of understanding Homer, or Grimm’s Fairy Tales, or that Jewish collection of books (you know the one, begins with this scene in which the world is created out of Tofu or something). Reminds me of this commentary by Jeffrey Tigay back in ’96, where he defends the historicity of the Giants of Palestine by making reference to some tall folk somewhere in central Africa, an ancient letter (which he omits to mention is a burlesque satire), and two skeletons in Jordan. But that’s another story.

5. Met James McGrath in the Eerdmans book exhibit. Really. Eerdmans.

6. Met Steve Wiggins in the Routledge book exhibit.

7. Met Mark Goodacre, talking to somebody who had his back turned towards me. Turned out to be Francis Watson. I scooted off fairly quickly. So nice to put faces to names after all this time, though.

8. The Sheffield reception. Ran into Jorunn Buckley again, who recited an interesting tale of a road-trip she did back in ’73 from Turkey to the Mandaeans in Iran. The point of the story was that supervisors will steal your stuff and pretend it’s their own, especially if they are Dutch Gnostic scholars.

9. Saw Emma England’s paper on Norman Habel’s children’s book, a book which is up there with that commentary on Job he wrote, but adds purple flood waters.

10. Met Bono in a pub.