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Review of Biblical Literature Blog

Creation and Chaos: A Reconsideration of Hermann Gunkel's Chaoskampf Hypothesis
Scurlock, JoAnn and Richard H. Beal, editors

Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2013 pp. xx + 322. $54.50


Hermann Gunkel was a scholar in the generation of the origins of Assyriology, the spectacular discovery by George Smith of fragments of the "Chaldean Genesis," and the Babel-Bibel debate. Gunkel's thesis, inspired by materials supplied to him by the Assyriologist Heinrich Zimmern, was to take the Chaoskampf motif of Revelation as an event that would not only occur at the end of the world but had already happened at the beginning, before Creation. In other words, in this theory, one imagines God in Genesis 1 as first having battled Rahab, Leviathan, and Yam (the forces of Chaos) in a grand battle, and only then beginning to create.

The problem with Gunkel's theory is that it did not simply identify common elements in the mythologies of the ancient Near East but imposed upon them a structure dictating the relationships between the elements, a structure that was based on inadequate knowledge and a forced interpretation of his sources. On the other hand, one is not entitled to insist that there was no cultural conversation among peoples who spent the better part of several millennia trading with, fighting, and conquering one another.

Creation and Chaos attempts to address some of these issues. The section entitled "Creation and Chaos" contains reflections by Sonik, Campbell, Lambert, and Scurlock on creation narratives in various cultures of the ANE and beyond. In the section entitled "Monster-Bashing Myths," Frayne, Gilan, Töyräänvuori, and Benz explore in regional perspective the phenomena of monsters and divine combat, the strongest fire under Gunkel's smoke. In the section "Gunkel and His Times," Lundström, Feinman, and Tugendhaft examine the political maelstrom in which Gunkel himself operated and remind us that neither his theories nor the form criticism that he helped to initiate were free of political or religious agendas. The papers of Pitard and Miller in the "Power and Politics" section explore the politico-religious issues that would have been the concern of the original myth-makers. Of course, it is important not to go too far in disenchanting ancient texts that contain clear mythological content. But how far is too far? And how far is not far enough? And which mythological elements from various ANE cultures actually match and in which passages? The papers of Batto and Averbeck in the "Kampf and Chaos" section constitute a sort of debate within a debate. In the final section, "Chaos and (Re)Creation," Scurlock and Melvin bring us as readers back full circle to our starting point.

Subjects: Bible, Literature, Methods, Historical Approaches, Literary Approaches

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Review by Craig W. Tyson
Published 3/20/2015
Citation: Craig W. Tyson, review of Joann Scurlock and Richard H. Beal, eds., Creation and Chaos: A Reconsideration of Hermann Gunkel's Chaoskampf Hypothesis, Review of Biblical Literature [] (2015).

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