Moses: The Israelite Apkallu

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Religious Studies

Conference Title

Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting


Society of Biblical Literature


Philadelphia, PA

Conference Dates

November 19-22, 2005

Date of Presentation

Fall 11-19-2005


In this paper I summarize the results of comparative work I have undertaken in Mesopotamian and Israelite materials concerning secrecy, divinity, and textual corpora that claim revelatory status. The specific focus will be on the implications this comparative work has for understanding Moses as prophet par excellence and authorizing figure for the Book of the Torah. In Mesopotamia, scribal scholars called the "ummanu" were the exclusive custodians of several secret textual corpora that guided them into interaction with and appeasement of the deities. These scribal scholars created a mythic connection between their ideologically important written texts and the divine realm by asserting that their texts originated with ancient sages called the "apkallu" and had come down to them in the present through normal channels of textual transmission. The "apkallu" were separated from the scholars qualitatively by their direct relationship with the sponsoring deity and historiographically by means of the epoch dividing flood. By claiming these sages as their forebears, the scholars essentially created a myth of scribal succession that established their texts as the permanent "standing orders" of the divine assembly. I will show that Moses, as the paradigmatic prophet in Israel, is essentially the Israelite equivalent of the Mesopotamian "apkallu." In so doing, I will, on the one hand, fill out the implications of the prophetic mediation of all cultic law in the Pentateuch, and, on the other, provide yet another instance of how Mesopotamian and Israelite traditions may be mutually enlightening.

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