Invoking the God: Comparing Laments in Mesopotamia and the Hebrew Psalter

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Religious Studies

Conference Title

Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting


Society of Biblical Literature


Boston, MA

Conference Dates

November 22-25, 2008

Date of Presentation



Since the earliest comparative analyses scholars have noted a striking difference between the Psalter's "laments of the individual" and the Akkadian Shuila-prayers. The latter begin with an invocation and hymnic prologue; the former have only a very brief invocation, often consisting of a word or two. A canvassing of the secondary literature demonstrates that several interpreters have attached great significance to this difference, making comparative and even theological generalizations that inevitably exalt Israel over its imperial neighbor in Mesopotamia. Although the difference between the Hebrew and Akkadian prayers is unmistakable, the comparison, as important and illuminating as it is, may not be entirely appropriate with regard to how these prayers begin. Based on Greenberg's social model of prayer and the idea that the level of formality in ritual is often directly related to the social distance or proximity between the parties involved (Bell and Douglas), I submit that a better comparison for understanding the brief invocation in the Hebrew "laments of the individual" lies in the dingir.sha.dib.ba-prayers, supplications for the abatement of a personal god's wrath. I argue that the brief invocations in both the Hebrew "laments of the individual" and the Akkadian dingir.sha.dib.ba's reflect the close connection between the supplicant and the deity entreated. Besides countering improper comparative generalizations, this paper will provide further support for seeing a personal aspect to the god presented in the Psalter's "laments of the individual."

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