Innocent Suffering In Mesopotamia -- By: Daniel P. Bricker
TynBul 51:2 (2000) p. 193
Innocent Suffering In Mesopotamia
Recent discussion of Mesopotamian texts holds to the idea that theodicy is present in this literature. An examination of the material which takes into account the cultural and religious views prevalent at the time will call into question the validity of classifying certain documents as theodicy. This study will attempt to evaluate the application of the term theodicy to the pertinent literature recovered from Mesopotamia thus far.
I. Introduction: The Purpose Of The Study
Studies of the literature from ancient Mesopotamia concerned with the idea of innocent suffering and theodicy have continued to hold to the notion that the concept of an innocent sufferer existed in ancient Mesopotamia. This is seen in the title that modern scholarship has bestowed on one of the documents1 as well as the pervasive view of scholars who discuss other documents that contain similar motifs and themes.
This study will examine the issue of innocent suffering in the literature of Mesopotamia to analyse the pertinent materials with respect to the concept of theodicy. Ancient Israel’s literature will be mentioned only in passing, but it is hoped that this study will shed light on that topic as it appears in the Old Testament.
Wolfram von Soden has listed four basic elements which must be present for the question of theodicy to be raised:
(1) a clear sense of right and wrong, so that a sufferer could reasonably claim to be suffering undeservedly;
TynBul 51:2 (2000) p. 194
(2) significant individual worth, so that personal suffering must be justified;
(3) minimal competition within the godhead or pantheon, so that suffering cannot be blamed on one deity due to human loyalty to another; and
(4) a limited view of judgement in the afterlife.2
If any of these four elements is absent, the tension which generally leads to a theodicy can be relieved. This is because the absence of any one of these components can negate or qualify the principle of equitable or just retribution. The presence of these four factors in any given situation may not answer the question of suffering but it allows the deity to be absolved of responsibility and therefore accusations of divine injustice are no longer appropriate.3 It is my contention that the texts from Mesopotamia do not contain theodicy in the modern sense.4 Gods or go...
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