The Concept Of God/The Gods As King In The Ancient Near East And The Bible -- By: Gary V. Smith

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 03:1 (Spring 1982)
Article: The Concept Of God/The Gods As King In The Ancient Near East And The Bible
Author: Gary V. Smith


The Concept Of God/The Gods As King In The
Ancient Near East And The Bible

Gary V. Smith

Winnipeg Theological Seminary

By its very nature, language about God must include analogical terms which try to communicate the idea of “God” in ways which man understands. Because man’s experiences and cultures have varied so tremendously, it is difficult and dangerous to make generalizations about the ancient Near Eastern concept of god. Rudolph Otto in his study The Idea of the Holy1 found a common mysterium tremendum et facinasum in all religions. This represents a power within things which results in man’s special treatment of them. An object might be considered sacred or taboo, but would receive reverence regardless, because of its power.

This power within nature, objects or people was perceived in different ways. In most cases it had control over aspects of nature, objects or persons to which it was related. This vital force, or god, was sometimes described in terms of the structure of the culture in which the people lived. These powers were thought to have personalities or wills which were related to one another in ways similar to the social relationships between men. Some powers were higher than others, as a master is above his slave, while others were offsprings of higher and more potent gods. Destructive forces like fire might be described as judges, or the earth as a mother who gives birth to vegetation. It seems natural then, that the chief gods or powers would be described in terms of the highest analogical power on earth: the king.2

The first section of this paper will survey some of the texts which archeologists have found in the ancient Near Eastern world to see how men describe their gods. Because the ancient world had so many gods, because of the large number of texts and because of the complexity of trying to reproduce an accurate conceptualization of a term like “god,” there will be no attempt to present a total picture of each god, during each period, as it was seen by each different class group within the society. Instead, the main purpose will be to examine the concept of king as it relates to the gods of the ancient Near Eastern world. Are gods called king, lord, ruler or other terms which relate to

the king (sitting on a throne, holding a scepter)? Do such references occur in all types of literature and art, and is kingship or rulership one of the central factors which characterize a god? In order to get a full picture of kingship, various roles which the earthly king has (judging, ruling, commander-in-chief) will b...

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