Trinity Journal 3 NS (1982) 18-38.

                           Copyright © 1982 by Trinity Journal, cited with permission.







                                          GARY V. SMITH



     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 com-

mon 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 archeolo-

gists 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



[1] Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy (London: Oxford University Press, 1943) 12-41.

2 T. Jacobsen, "Formative Tendencies in Sumerian Religion," The Bible and the Ancient Near East:

Essays in Honor of W. F. Albright, ed. G. E. Wright (Garden City: Doubleday, 1965) 27.

SMITH. GOD/THE GODS AS KING                                                                      19


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 be compared to the functions of the gods who are kings.

     In the second section, various biblical references to the kingship of Yahweh

are compared with ancient Near Eastern ideas in order to identify both simi-

larities and differences. How does Israel's concept of the earthly king and

God's kingship compare with the Egyptian, Canaanite, Hittite and Mesopo-

tamian concepts? Is the kingship or rulership of God central to Old Testament

thinking? The answers to these questions in past studies are very diverse. Some

see a relationship between Mari social customs and the Abraham story but they

deny any theological relationship between Israel and her neighbors. Others find

a basic "pattern" in the many similarities of language, culture, ritual and

theology: thus, Israelite religion is derived from and understood in light of

other religions in the ancient Near East. One of the important issues in this

debate is the concept of kingship, and in this area one must not ignore either

the similarities or the differences between Israel and her neighbors' concept of




     There is much about the beliefs of the peoples of Mesopotamia which

suggests a common culture throughout their history. But cultures and times

changed throughout the Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian periods. New gods

came to prominence and variations of detail are abundant. Although Jacobsen

has reconstructed the religion of the fourth millennium B.C. around aspects of

fertility, the religion of the third millennium B.C. around the metaphor of gods

conceived as rulers, and the religion of the second millennium B.C. around the

more personal concept of the gods as parents,3 all these aspects were present to

some extent during each period. The metaphor of a god as ruler dates back to

the protoliterate age and continued throughout Mesopotamian history. It

would seem to be precarious to tie a people's concept of their gods solely to

one aspect of their economic, political or personal experiences. One of these

factors may be more influential in certain pieces of literature, but all three

factors contributed varying degrees of emphasis at all times. A god of fertility

can be a personal god who is prayed to for economic aid and still be the king or

lord of fertility. The terminology of kingship and lordship which dominates the

Mesopotamian literature suggests that the power and authority of the gods was

an essential factor in their thinking.

     The description of earthly kings found during the early period includes the

conceptual terms of "lord," "one who exercises lordship," "kingship," "the

leader of the military forces," "shepherd of the land" and "the dispenser of


3 T. Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976) 20-21.

20                                                                                             TRINITY JOURNAL


righteous judgment."4 This concept and the power of kingship which the

Mesopotamian kings enjoyed was "lowered from heaven "5 by the gods. The

similarity between the gods and the kings was expressed in the proverb "the

king is like the (very) image of god."6

     The Mesopotamian tendency was to view the world as a state.7 Since every-

thing in the world has a character, will and power, it is part of the total society

of the ancient man. The political and social terminology is thus extended by

analogy, beyond the relationship of men, to include all "powers." Although

some "powers" were inferior gods in relationship to the chief gods of the pan-

theon, they were still considered the lord in their own areas of responsibility.


A. The Kingship of An, Enlil and Enki

     An/Anu, the god of heaven, was regarded as the highest god and head of the

pantheon of the gods. Anu is addressed as king in the story of Adapa,8 the

myth of Enki and Sumer9 and the hymn to Ishtar.10 "Anu the Great, the

father of the gods,"11 is the father of Enlil who is called the king of the lands

in the prologue to the Lipit-Ishtar law code.12 The prologue and epilogue to

Hammurabi's law code give first place to "lofty Anum, the king of the

Anunnaki," and second to his chief executive, "Enlil, lord of heaven and earth,

the determiner of destinies."13 In the lamentation over the destruction of Ur,

a similar relationship is found between "Anu, the king of the gods" and "Enlil"

the king of the lands."14 Enlil's kingship is proclaimed over and over again in,

the myth of Enlil and Ninlil15 and he is said to have a throne and crown.16

Ringgren says, "He (Anu) is above all, the gods of kingship; it is from him that the

office of kingship comes, and he is himself king of the gods…. Enlil was


4 J. B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts (hereafter ANET) (Princeton: Prince-

ton University Press, 1955) 496. Shu-sin is called "lord" nine times in this "love song to a

king." For further examples see pp. 45-52 (Gilgamesh); 164-5, 177-80 (Hammurabi's law

code), 265-6 (Sumerian king list), 480-81 (Ibbi-Sin) and T. Jacobsen, Toward the Image;

of Tammuz and other Essays on Mesopotamian History and Culture (Cambridge: Harvard

University Press) 158; N. Postgate, The Making of the Past: The First Empires (Oxford:

Elsevier Phaidon, 1977) 23-5; S. Smith, “The Practice of Kingship in Early Semitic King-

doms," Myth, Ritual and Kingship (Oxford: Clarendon, 1958) 22-73.

5 ANET 114 line 14; 159-61; 164; 265; 481 line 18. H. Frankfort (Kingship and the,

Gods [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948]) deals with the function of the kin&1

(249-74) and the question of the deification of the kings (295-312).

6 ANET 426.

7 T. Jacobsen and others, Before Philosophy: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient

Man (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1959) 140.

8 ANET 101, B 17; 102, B 46.

9 S. N. Kramer, Sumerian Mythology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press:

1972) 59.

10 ANET 383 line 34.

11ANET 390 line 12.

12ANET 159.

13ANET 164; 179 line 42; 91.

14ANET 462 lines 381-2.

15Kramer, Mythology 45-6.

16 ANET 113.

SMITH. GOD/THE GODS AS KING                                                                                 21


the 'king of the lands' (i.e. of the earth), and like his father, Anu, could be

'called 'the father of the gods' and the 'king of the gods'.17

     Enki, whose name literally means "the lord of the earth" is related to the

earth, the water, wisdom and craftsmanship, but his status as a god in his own

realm is that of a king. Jacobsen posits that Enki's office in the world state is

that of "a great nobleman of the realm….a councilor….But he is not king,

not a ruler in his own right. The position derives from Anu and Enlil; he is their

minister."18 But in the myth of Enki and Ninhursag, Enki is called "the king"

by Isimud his messenger,19 thus giving his position in his own realm. In Enki's

power struggle with Enlil, he is called "the lord defiant, the prince defiant, the

king defiant."20 In the myth of Enki and Sumer, Enki is identified as the

"king of the abyss."21 The myth of Enki and Eridu refers to "the lord of the

abyss, the king Enki" and Enlil announces that "My son has built a house, the

king Enki."22 Inanna is presented the "throne of kingship…the exalted

scepter, staffs, the exalted shrine, shepherdship, kingship"23 by Enki who is

addressed as king by Isimud and Inanna in the myth of Inanna and Enki.24 Ea,

the Akkadian name of Enki, is called king in the story of Adapa,25 the descent

of lshtar into the nether world,26 and in a psalm to Marduk.27 He is called

lord on numerous occasions in the Atrahasis epic,28 as well as "king of the



B. The Kingship of Other Gods

     Ninurta is king of the land in the myth of Kur29 and in a similar manner

Enkimdu, the farmer god, is twice called "the king of dike and ditch" in the

dispute between the shepherd-god and the farmer-god.30 Ereshkigal, the

goddess of the nether world, is pictured as sitting on a throne31 and called

queen of the nether world in the myth of Inanna's descent into the nether

world.32 In the story of Kumma's vision of the nether world, Nergal who was

granted "dominion over the wide nether world,"33 is seated on a royal throne


17 ANET 54.

18 ANET 160.

19 ANET 39 lines 97, 117; 40 lines 200-215.

20 Kramer, Mythology X.

21  Ibid. 60.

22 Ibid. 62-3.

23 Ibid. 66.

24 Ibid. 67.

25 ANET 102 c 8-10.

26 ANET 107 lines 27-8; 108 line 4.

27 ANET 390 line 18.

28 ANET 105-106; W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Atrahasis: The Babylonian Story

of the Flood (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969) 49, 67,89.

29 Kramer, Mythology 81.

30 ANET 42 lines 37, 71.

31 ANET 55 line 162; 104 line 78.

32 ANET 54-5 lines 91-5. The same title is given to Ishtar (107 line 23; 110 line 18; \

87, VI iv 50).

33 ANET 104 line 83.

22                                                                                                                            TRINITY JOURNAL


wearing a crown of royalty and holding a scepter.34 He is bowed to, his feet

are kissed, and he is called ruler. The myth of Zu describes the gods' loss of

their rulership when the tablets of destiny are stolen.35 The Assyrian version

of the myth identifies the exercise of "Enlilship" (rulership) with "the crown

of his sovereignty, the robe of his godhead."36 Rulership is the essence of the

gods which Zu took in order that he might rule and set himself on a throne. In

the lamentation over the destruction of Ur, Ningal the wife of Nanna is

referred to as a shepherd and the queen of Ur.37 A Kassite inscription has eight

references to the gods as kings38 and in a hymn to Shamesh, the sun god, the

people would sing, "prince of the gods, righteous judge…king of heaven and

earth, lord of destinies…[you] govern mankind; you rule over the heavenly


     In the Enuma Elish, Marduk is described in extraordinary terms, being far

above the other gods at the time of his birth.40 But it is Kingu who is elevated

as chief of the assembly, commander-in-chief, supreme controller of destinies

and the one elevated to the rank of Anu.41 In contrast to the power of Tiamat

whom none can destroy and Kingu who was made supreme by Tiamat, is

Marduk who is given a throne, complete authority, the most honored position

and kingship of the universe.42 After he is given a scepter and a throne, he is

proclaimed to be king and lord repeatedly.43 Hammurabi, in the prologue and

epilogue to his law code, refers to Marduk as the supreme one whose kingship

was established in Babylon.44 Nebuchadnezzar II at a later period also calls

Marduk lord and king.45 Nabonidus and Cyrus call Marduk "king of the gods

and lord of lords,"46 but sometime in the reign of Nabonidus his attention was

turned to the god Sin whom he calls the king of the gods.47 The historical

texts from Assyria repeatedly refer to the god Ashur as lord48 and twice he is

called king.49

     Descriptions of the gods in terms of kingship are found in ritual texts,

hymns and prayers. Two of the many praises given to Ishtar are "queen of

women" and the "goddess of goddesses who wears the crown of dominion."50


34 ANET 110 lines 11, 15-16.

35 ANET 1111ines 14, 16.

36 ANET 112 ii5-6.

37 ANET461 lines 305, 315, 331, 369, 373, 383-4.

38 ANET 58-59, fragment A vii; c iv, vi; D V.

39 H. Ringgren, Religions of the Ancient Near East (London: SPCK, 1973) 59.

40 ANET62 lines 80-104.

41 ANET 62-63 I 146-160; II 34-6; III38-49, 95-107.

42 ANET 66 IV 1-15.

43 ANET 66-69 IV 28;VI 20, 39, 142-3; VII 91, 95, 101.

44 ANET 164; 10-20; ii 9; 178 xxv 20-59.

45 ANET 307.

46 ANET 309 i; 310 ix; 315.

47 ANET 311-12.

48 ANET 275-301. The title "lord" is found over twenty-five times in these pages.

49 ANET 281 in the Inscription by Adad-Nirari III and page 289 in prism B by


50 ANET 383-5.

SMITH.  GOD/THE GODS AS KING                                                                                                23


The moon-god, Nanna or Sin, is called "lord of the shining crown of dominion,

of hero of the gods, Father Nanna, who is grandly perfected in kingship."51 The

New Year's festival at Babylon describes Bel as "excellent king, lord of the

country" which parallels the title given to Marduk who is "the great lord,"

the "the lord of the world, king of the gods…who holds kingship, grasps

In lordship."52

     The seemingly contradictory proclamations, that a multitude of deities are

king, can be understood only if one realizes that different gods ascended to

the kingship at different times and that the kingships described often pertain to

different areas of rulership. Thus An, Enlil and Enki who were supreme among

the Sumerians, gave way in later history to the increased importance of Marduk

and Ashur as well as Shamesh, Ishtar and Sin. Whoever the chief god may be, it

far appears from the literary evidence that he was described in terms of kingship or

lordship from the Sumerian through the Babylonian periods.



     In the northwest Semitic culture at Ugarit, the title "king" and its related

conceptual terms are found In the epic literature as well as in later Greek

authors who describe their religion.53 The description of the Ugaritic earthly

kings provides a criterion for identifying kingship terminology that was applied

to their gods. Although there is a limited amount of information on kings out-

side the "mythological" literature, the image of the king in the epics appears to

be a realistic representation of the ruling earthly kings.

     The Keret epic describes several disasters which threaten Keret's role as

king. The king, who is the "son of El,"54 is the one who leads the army, judges

righteously, and sits enthroned ruling with authority.55 In the initial section,

after Keret loses his family and has his authority undermined, El asks him, "Is

it kingship like Bull his father's he desires, or authority like the Father of

Man's?"56 In the final paragraphs Keret is returned "to his former estate; he

sits upon the throne of his kingship; upon the dais, the seat of his

authority."57 The plot of this epic is clearly put in terms of kingship and

specifically relates to Keret's ability to maintain his kingship in spite of

sickness, death, plagues and other disasters. Yassib, Keret's son, attempts to

usurp Keret's position and declares, "Descend from thine kingship-I'll reign,

from thine authority-I'll sit enthroned."58 The epic of Keret explicitly com-


51 ANET 385.

52 ANET 331-2.

53 Ringgren, Religions 124-7. These include the important works of Lucian On the

Syrian Goddess and Philo of Byblos who is quoted in Eusebius' Praeparatio Evangelica


54 ANET 147, KRT C i 10,20,25.

55 Ringgren, Religions 169-73; J. Gray, "Canaanite Kingship in Theory and Practice,"

VT 2 (1952) 193-220; J. Gray, The KRT Text in the Literature of Ras Shamra (Leiden:

Brill, 1964)2, 5-8; R. deLanghe, "Myth, Ritual, and Kingship in the Ras Shamra Tablets,"

Myth, Ritual and Kingship (Oxford: Clarendon, 1958) 142-8.

56 ANET 143, KRT A i 41.

57 ANET 149, KRT C vi 23-25.

58 ANET 149, KRT C vi 37-38; 53-54.


24                                                                                            TRINITY JOURNAL


pares the kingship of El with that of Keret and gives a basis for understanding

kingship as an essential concept in ANE thought about the gods.

     The Aqhat epic describes the struggles of a righteous king59 or a righteous

village elder60 who "sits at the gate…judging the fatherless."61 Most of the

epic deals with the desire for, birth and death of, and the search for Aqhat. The

position of El is identified when Anath enters "the pavilion of the king, Father

Shunem,"62 the abode of El, to gain his approval for the death of Aqhat. El

the king is bowed to and reverenced but later mistreated and threatened during

the temper tantrum of Anath. Pope and others interpret El's reaction as a sign

of weakness which demonstrates that El's kingship was more nominal than



A. El the King

     The attributes and epithets of El have been outlined by M. Pope, and

include: (a) "father," with its more specific identification of "father of years,"

"father of mankind," "father of the gods," and "father of eternity" which

point to El's position in the family of the gods and his advanced age;64

(b) "Bull," which symbolizes his procreative powers;"65 (c) "wise, beneficent,

holy, and kind;"66 (d) "creator of creatures" and "creator of earth;"67 and

(e) "king."68

     The significance and status of El in relationship to his kingship is perceived

differently. Dussaud gives El a very high position and identifies him with the

solar Aton, the god of the Egyptian Empire (because of the solar disc above El

on a stela). This near monotheistic position was later eroded by the ascendance

of Baal who supplanted EI and reigned in his stead.69

     Nielsen sees El as the chief Semitic god who was connected to the moon.

Roggia and Eissfeldt interpret El worship to be nearly monotheistic, with

Eissfeldt giving El the monarchial position of being the king and highest god


59 Ringgren, Religions 172; G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh:

T. & T. Clark, 1956) 8; J. Gray, Near Eastem Mythology (London: Hamlyn, 1969) 91, 99.

60 J. C. L. Gibson, "Myth, Legend and Folk-lore in the Ugaritic Keret and Aqhat:

Texts," VTS 28 (1975) 60-68 and H. H. P. Dressler, "The Identification of the Ugaritic,

DNIL with the Daniel of Ezekiel," VT 29 (1979) 152-3.

61 ANET 151, AQHT A v 5-8; 153, AQHT C i 22-5.

62 ANET 152, AQHT A vi 49.

63 M. Pope, El in the Ugaritic Texts (Leiden: Brill, 1955) 25-9. A similar view is held:

by A. Kapelrud, Baal in the Ras Shamra Texts (Copenhagen: G. Gad, 1952); U. Cassuto,

The Goddess Anat (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1971) 53-7.

64 Pope, EL 32-4. Pope connects snm with the Arabic root meaning "to shine, be,

high, exalted in rank" while U. Oldenburg, The Conflict Between El and Baal in Canaanite,:

Religion (Leiden: Brill, 1969) 17-19 translates snm as "luminaries" since El was the father

of shr the morning star and slm the evening star.

65 Pope, EL 35-42.

66 Ibid. 42-5.

67 Ibid. 47-54.

68 Ibid. 25-32.

69 Ibid. 82-4. for Pope's criticism of R. Dussaudi, Les découvertes de Ras Shamra

(Ugarit) etl’Ancien Testament (parts: Geuthner, 1941) 91-7.

SMITH GOD/THE GODS AS KING                                                              25


(the other gods are emanations of his power) and Roggia finding a gradual take-

over by Baal of El's position of power and authority.70  Ringgren calls El the

"supreme authority among the gods, where he reigns as king."71 Pope dis-

covers in El only a nominal head of the pantheon and a nominal king of the

gods because Anath forced El's hand when she requested a house for Baal and

when she demanded Aqhat's bow, because the messengers of Prince Yamm

refused to bow to El, and because Yamm and Baal are also called "king" and

"lord" in their successful struggle for dominion.72 Lokkegaard interprets El's

so-called weakness as a virtue in a ruler. El's action is based on moderation,

tolerance, self-reliance and a true sense of security in one's position.73 Olden-

burg's analysis of El in Sanchuniathon's Phoenician History reveals an "omni-

potent monarch ruling from Phoenicia over the whole world,"74 whose

kingship is usurped by Baal in the Ugaritic mythology.75

     Albrecht Alt's identification of the patriarchal God as "the God of the

Fathers"76 is expanded by F. Cross who compares the Ugaritic god El to "the

God of the Fathers."77 Cross concludes that "the exercise of authority by El

over his council suggests that his role is more that of a patriarch, or that of a

judge in the council of a league of tribes, than the role of a divine king."78

Certainly El is the aged divine father, and it is true that the office of a judge

over a league and a king are quite similar, but the titles and functions of El go

much beyond that of a judge or patriarch. Cross believes that El was not an

absolute ruler79 but this recent trend to diminish El's power does not go as far

as what the text demands.80 The power of a king is not destroyed if he gives

authority to others or is influenced by wives, friends, and threats. Cross has

properly drawn attention to the distinctive character of El's rule and concedes

that El reflects "the organized institution of kingship"81 as well as the patriar-

chal society.

      In the Baal epic, as in many mythological texts, a description. of the gods'


70 Ibid. 83-90 for Pope's fuller description and criticism of D. Nielsen, Ras Shamra

Mythologie und Biblische Theologie (Leipzig: Teubner, 1936) 9-26 and R. G. Roggia,

"Alcume osservationi suI culto di El a Ras-Samra,"Aevum (1941) 559-75.

71 Ringgren, Religions 129.

72 Pope, EL 90-91.

73 F. Lokkegard, "A Plea for EL the Bull, and other Ugaritic Miscellanies," Studia

Orientalia loanni Pedersen septuagenario dicta (Copenhagen: Einar Munksgaard, 1953)


74 Oldenburg, Conflict 12-22. See Cross, Canaanite Myth 21 n. 51 for a criticism of


75 Oldenburg, Conflict 12, 104, 183.

76 A. Alt, Essays in Old Testament History and Religion (New York: Anchor Books,

1966) 3-86.

77 Cross, Canaanite Myth 12.

78 Ibid. 39.

79 Ibid. 40.

80 W. Kaiser, "The Ugaritic Pantheon" (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation at Brandeis

University, 1973) 26-7 and C. E. L'Heureux, Rank Among the Canaanite Gods (Mis-

sou1a: Scholars Press, 1979) 3-28 for a full discussion of the objections raised by Pope.

81 Cross, Canaanite Myth 41.

26                                                                                                                            TRINITY JOURNAL


struggle for power is expressed in terms of kingship. After permission for

building a house for Yammis granted from "the pavilion of king, Father

Shunem"82 who has power to grant and "overturn the throne of thy kingship!

Yea, break the scepter of thy dominion,"83 Baal goes "to El the king his

begetter"84 to get permission to have a house built for himself. This is fol-

lowed by Asherah's trip to "the pavilion of king, Father Shunem."85 In their

dialogue, El wonders if "El the king's love stirs"86 her, to which Asherah asks

"the king"87 to build a house for Baal. Later in the epic both Anath and Mot

refer to "the pavilion of king, Father Shunem"88 and Shapsh tells Mot that El

has the power to "overturn thy throne of kingship, break thy staff of

dominion."89 "Eternal king" is another epithet used of El90 who is enthroned

and sits as judge.91 These references to concepts relating to kingship demon-

strate the importance of the conceptual analogy of the king in the Ugaritic

concept of the chief god El.

     The graphic representation of El on a limestone stela as a majestic figure on

an ornate throne, wearing a crown, supports the kingly view of the god El.92 A

bronze statuette of El with an Egyptian crown was also found at Ugarit.93


B. Kingship of other gods

     The struggle for power and kingship of other gods is illustrated in the Baal

epic. The fertility cults' nature cycles are conceived in terms of the dominance

of various gods as king of the earth for a limited period of time.

     Prince Yamm desires a house or palace like El and authority over Baal.94

Yarmm has a throne but Kothar wa-Khasis tells Baal "thou'lt take thine eternal

kingdom, thine everlasting dominion…chase Yamm from his throne, Nahar

from the seat of his dominion."95 Baal also requests a house like the gods with

a gorgeous throne. Once Baal's throne is built and Baal dwells in his house, Baal

declares his dominion over the earth and the gods,96 and is called Lord of the

earth.97 But soon Baal is "chas'd from his throne of kingship, from the dais,


82 ANET 129, B III AB C 7. See L. Fisher, ed., Ras Shamra Parallels vol. I (Rome:

Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1972) 111, 233-4.

83 ANET 129, B III AB C 16-17.

84 ANET 131, B II AB 7.

85 ANET 133, B II AB iv 24.

86 ANET 133, B II AB iv 38.

87 ANET 133, B II AB iv 42-47.

88 ANET 137, BV AB E 17; 139 B I* AB vi 2.

89 ANET 141, BlAB vi 28-29.

90 Cross, Canaanite Myth 16, 20; L. Fisher, Ras Shamra 266.

91 Cross, Canaanite Myth 21.

92 Gray, Mythology 71 for a picture of this stela. See Pope's discussion, EL 45-6.

93 C. Virolleavd, Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Letters

(Paris: Geuthner, 1960) 340-41.

94 ANET 129, Bill AB C 8-9. i

95 ANET 131, Bill AB A 10-13,20.

96 ANET 135, B II AB vii 41-2, 50. "Have sway" is the root mlk "be king." See also

L. Bonner, The Stories of Elijah and Elisha (Leiden: Brill, 1968) 90.

97 ANET 135, B V AB A 8; L. Fisher, Ras Shamra 262-3.

SMITH GOD/THE GODS AS KING                                                                                  27


the seat of his dominion"98 and "Puissant Baal is dead, the Prince, Lord of the

Earth is perished."99 Consequently, EI suggests to Asherah, "one of thy sons,

I'll make king,”100 to which Asherah first replies "why, let's make Yadi

Yalhan king,"101 and secondly, "let Ashtar the Tyrant be king."102 Ashtar

does not fit on Baal's throne and thus his reign is ended. When Baal returns to

life he is repeatedly called "Lord of the Earth"; and it is said of him, "Baal

mounts his throne of kingship, Dagon's son his seat of dominion."103 Other

unspecified lesser gods are pictured as dwelling on "thrones of princeship."104

      These examples give us insight into the conceptual framework of the ancient

Near Eastern mind. Kingship was the significant factor in the struggle of the

gods for power.105 There is no fight to steal the essence of what Baal, Mot, or

Yamm represent. The conflict is for a particular god to have dominion and

kingship over all other powers. The king was the figure of power which

provided the most ideal analogy to symbolize a dominant force in nature. A

god by definition was not necessarily a king, but when a god held dominion, he

sat on the throne of his kingship and ruled the world. The frequent Ugaritic use

of such notions as king, lord, dominion, to sit enthroned, and authority reflects

the dominant commonality in gods in Ugaritic literature.




Although the early Hittite kings may have been elected,106 the Hittite

society was essentially feudal with the "Great King" at the top. The king was

the "supreme commander of the army, supreme judicial authority, and chief

priest."107 The preamble to the Hittite suzerainty treaties indicates the high

status of the king who was the head of the religion as well as the state.

     The relationship between the gods and men was “that of a servant to his

master or that of a subject to his king."108 This attitude was especially preva-

lent in the Hittite prayers where the term "my lord" occurs with great

frequency after the name of a god. In the plague prayer of Mursilis, the son of


98 ANET 137, B V AB D 45-6.

99 ANET 139, B I* AB vi 9-10; 140, B I AB i 41-2.

100 ANET 140, B I AB i 46

101 ANET 140, B I AB i 48.

102 ANET 140, B I AB i 54; L. Fisher, Ras Shamra 7.

103 ANET 141, B I AB v 5-6; vi 33. For an extensive study of Baal see A. S. Kapelrud,

Baal in the Ras Shamra Texts (Copenhagen: G. Gad, 1952).

104 ANET 130, B III AB B 20-30.

105 Gray, Mythology 115. Gray calls this struggle for kingship the central theme of the

Canaanite New Year's festival.

106 O. R. Gurney, The Hittites (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1952) 63.

107 Ibid. 65. See also H. A. Hoffner, "The Hittites and Hurrians," Peoples of Old Testa-

ment Times (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973) 208-10; O. R. Gurney, "Hittite Kingship," Myth,

Ritual and Kingship, ed. S. Hooke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958) 105-21;

C. W. Ceram, The Secrets of the Hittites (New York: Knopf, 1956) 119-31.

108 O. R. Gurney, Some Aspects of Hittite Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

also 1977) 1-20; H. G. Guterbock, "Hittites Religion," Ancient Religions (New York: Philo-

sophical Library, 1950) 99; P. H. Houwink Ten Cate, "Hittite Royal Prayers," Numen

16 (1969) 82.

28                                                                                                                            TRINITY JOURNAL


Suppiluliumas, "my lord" is used over twenty five times.109 Furlani considers

this relationship to be the most basic aspect of the Hittite religion.110  He bases

this hypothesis on the instructions for temple officials111 and other sacred



A. The Kingship of Alalu, Anu and Kumarbi


      Hittite mythology describes how" Alalus was king in heaven"112 for nine

years. After Anu vanquished Alalu, Anu sat upon his throne and ruled as king

in heaven for nine years. The cycle continued when Anu was defeated by

Kumarbi, who in turn was defeated by Tesub, the storm-god, the king of

Kummiya, appears to have taken Kumarbi's place, for Tasmisus, the storm-

god's attendant, says that if Tesub moves from his place "there will be no king

in heaven."113 In the "Song of Ullikummis," Kummarbi, who has been

connected with the Sumerian god Enlil,114 the Ugaritic god El115 and even

Dagan,116 attempts to gain victory over the storm-god so that Ullikumis may

"ascend to heaven for kingship."117 The desire of each of the gods is to rule as

king and their struggle for authority is described in their literature in terms of



B. The Kingship of the sun and storm gods

     The Hittite sun-goddess of Arinna is twice proclaimed to be the one who

"regulates kingship and queenship" in the treaty between Suppiluliumas and

Mattiwaza."118 In Pudu-hepa's prayer to the sun-goddess, she is called the

"Queen or heaven and earth, O Sun-goddess of Arinna, queen of all the

countries."119 At Arinna, the sun-goddess who was called Wurusemu, was the

principal deity.120 Although she was "the supreme patroness of the Hittite

state and monarchy"121 it was the sun-god who was the King of the gods.122

Thus, his name appears before the sun-goddess of Arinna on some Hittite


Tesub, the Hurrian storm or weather-god is called king in the song of


109 ANET 394-6.

110 G. Fur1ani, "Basic Aspects of Hittite Religion," Harvard Theological Review 31

(1938) 251-62.

111 ANET 207-10.

112 ANET 120.

113 ANET 124.

114 Gurney, "Hittite Religion," Ancient Religions 103.

115 Pope, EL 32; M. C. Astour, "Semitic Elements in the Kumarbi Myth: An Onomas-

tic Inquiry," JNES 27 (1968) 172.

116 E. Laroche, Ugaritica V (paris: Libraire Orientaliste P. Geuthner, 1968) 523-5.

117 ANET 122,125.

118 ANET 205.

119 ANET 393.

120 O. R. Gurney, The Hittites (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1961) 136.

121 1bid. 139. The text is found in Pritchard, ANET 398.

122 1bid.

123 ANET 205.

SMITH GOD/THE GODS AS KING                                                                                  29


Ullikimus and is considered by some to be the "supreme king. ..the real king

and owner of the land of Hatti."124 In Mursilis' prayers, the storm-god is

addressed as "my lord" and "the king of heaven."125 In a treaty he is called

the "lord of heaven and earth."126 Among the other gods, Ea is once referred

to as "the king of wisdom”;127  and Telepinus is told, "There is no other deity

more noble and mighty than thou…thou watchest over kingship in heaven

and earth."128

     In the oath formula which invokes the gods, one finds kingship terms used

of. “Ishara, queen of the oath, Hebat, .queen of heaven"129 and in other

writings the Luwian god Santas is called king.130

     These examples illustrate how the Hittites used the kingship analogy to des-

cribe their chief gods. A great deal remains unknown about the relationships

between the Hittite gods but the struggle for power and dominant position is

consistently stated in kingship terminology.



     An integrated description of Egyptian religion is partially hidden behind the

vast array of religious images found in Egyptian literature and art. A funda-

mental part of Egyptian thinking concerning their Pharaohs was that the king

was divine. In art, the white crown and vulture of Upper Egypt and the red

crown and cobra of Lower Egypt symbolized kingship. Titles such as "King of

Upper and Lower Egypt," "Lord of the Two Lands" and "Son of Re" identi-

fied kings. Since the Pharaoh was divine, "kingship in Egypt remained the

channel through which the powers of nature flowed into the body politic to

bring human endeavor to fruition."131 Thus the maintenance of nature and

civilization were dependent on the king.

     The rule of the king was absolute in Egypt. He was normally expected to

maintain justice and order over the land, to serve as an intermediary with the

gods, to be commander-in-chief of the army and the highest judicial official in

the land.132 An impressive synthesis of the meaning of "king" in Egypt can be

found in Frankfort's book Kingship and the Gods. Frankfort finds four themes

running throughout the long history of Egyptian cultic tradition which explain

how the Egyptians saw the divine at work in the world. These themes are:

creation, fertility, resurrection and kingship.133 The motif of kingship

penetrates into the very fiber of all of history, for the earthly kings, and the

gods who were kings, were the participants which made creation, fertility and


124 Guterbock, "Hittite Religion," 88.

125 ANET 394-5,398.

126 ANET  206.

127 ANET  356.

128 ANET  397.

129 ANET  205.

130 Gurney, The Hittites 138.

131 H. Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948)


132 S. Morenz, Egyptian Religion (London: Methuen, 1973) 11-13; A. Erman, Life in

Ancient Egypt (New York: Dover Publications, 1971) 53-78; Frankfort, Kingship 51-60.

133 Frankfort, Kingship 146.

30                                                                                                                            TRINITY JOURNAL


resurrection possible. Each was a demonstration of the kingship of the Pharaoh

and the chief gods.

     The close association of certain gods with the Pharaoh resulted in the identi-

fication of the two. "The monarchy was conceived as a reality in the world of

the gods as well as the world of men."134 "The forms of the state began to

pass over into the world of the gods, and an important god would be called a

'king.' "135 "In the cult the gods were treated as if they were kings on

earth."136 The Egyptians believed that the king and his authority were derived

from and patterned after the gods. Thus the sun-god, Atum-Re, established

order and justice and the Pharaoh who was a replica of the god-king-judge, Re,

was the supreme judge in Egypt.137 The importance of the earthly king in

Egypt mirrors the importance of the kingship ideas among the gods.138


A. The Kingship of Re

     The Turin Papyrus and Manetho list Re, the sun-god, as the first king in

Egypt. The kingship of Re, who is also known as Khepri, Atum and various

dual names, goes back to the time of creation. "Monarchial rule, then, was

coeval with the universe; the Creator had assumed kingship over his creation

from the first."139 The early sun-god of Heliopolis who is said to be the

begetter of the Ennead proclaims, "I am Re in his (first) appearances, when he

began to rule that which he had made. Who is he? This…means that Re

began to appear as a king."140

     The kingship of Re is frequently expressed in the formula "king of the

gods." The booty from the capture of Joppa is to be given to the house of

"Amon-Re, King of the Gods"141 and on Wen-Amon's journey to Phoenicia to

obtain wood, he refers to Amon-Re as "King of the Gods" ten different

times.142 Amon-Re is called "King of the Gods" in a Twentieth Dynasty legal

document,143 in two texts which relate to the Hyksos period,144 and by

Thut-mose III who introduces himself as one who is "Enduring in Kingship,

like Re in heaven,"145 who serves "Amon-Re, Lord of the Thrones of the Two

Lands."146 The title "Amon-Re, King of the Gods" is found in a document

about a runaway slave,147 a list of the properties which belonged to the


134 Ibid.33.

135 J. H. Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience (New York: Scribner's, 1934) 19.

136 V. Ions, Egyptian Mythology (Middlesex: Harnlyn, 1968) 14.

137 Frankfort, Kingship 157.

138 ANET  446-47. Thut-mose III sits upon the throne of Re.

139 Frankfort, Kingship 15.

140 ANET  3-4.

141 ANET  23.

142 ANET  25-8.

143 ANET  214.

144 ANET  231-2.

145 ANET  234.

146 ANET 236. See also the title by Amen-hotep II (246), the tomb of a visier under(

-Thut-mose III (248), Seti 1(255), Thutmose III (373), and Amen-hotep III (375).

147 ANET 259.

SMITH. GOD/THE GODS AS KING                                                                                 31


temple of Amon,148 and in ritual texts.149

     Of special importance are a number of hymns to Amon-Re. In one hymn

Amon-Re is the

chief of all gods. ..Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands…

father of the gods, who made mankind and created the beasts…

the king of Upper and Lower Egypt…beautiful of diadem, and

lofty of White Crown…Lord of the Double Crown…lord of

the gods…who gave commands, and the gods came into being

...the chief of the Great Ennead…the sole king…maker of all

mankind, Creator and maker of all that is….150


B. The Kingship of other gods

      The theology which developed at Memphis proclaimed Ptah as creator of

the gods and of all creation.151 At first, the god Seth was made the king of

Upper Egypt and the god Horus the king of Lower Egypt, but Geb later gave

Horus the kingship over all Egypt in order to end discord. Subsequently, Ptah

created the world by his word and took on the kingly title of "Lord of the

Two Lands."152 In the final paragraph the god Horus, the son of Osiris,

appears as the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, thus setting forth the identifi-

cation of the dead Pharaoh with Osiris and his successor with Horus.153

     The position of Horus as the new king explains why the Egyptian Pharaohs

Re were identified with Horus. The earthly king sits upon the throne of Horus154

who is called "the good king of Egypt" and "the ruler" in the contest of Horus

and Seth.155 In celebration of the ascension of Mer-ne-Ptah to the throne, he

is said to be "great of kingship like Horus,"156 and at the ascension of Ramses

IV, Horus is proclaimed to be "upon the throne of his father Amon-Re."157

"Pharaoh, then, is an incarnation of Horus, the Great(est) God, Lord of


     Beliefs about the god Osiris primarily relate to fertility and resurrection. His

identification with burial rites and especially the dead Pharaoh ultimately lead

to the place where Osiris is "considered the supreme god of Egypt."159 In

mythology, Osiris was a king after Geb his father, until he was murdered and

went to the world of the dead where he was known as the "King of the

Dead."160 The fertility aspect of Osiris related his death land resurrection to


148 ANET  261.

149 ANET  325. This text also includes the title "Lord of the thrones of the Two


150 ANET 365-7.

151 Frankfort, Kingship 24.

152 ANET 4-5.

153 Frankfort, Kingship 32.

154 Morenz, Egyptian Religion 34.

155 ANET 17.

156 ANET  378.

157 ANET  379.

158 Frankfort, Kingship 40.

159 Ions, Egyptian Mythology 50.

160 Ibid. 55; Frankfort, Kingship 197, 207-10.

32                                                                                                                             TRINITY JOURNAL


the seasonal agriculture cycle, the seasonal rise and fall of the Nile and the

daily rebirth of the sun.161 Osiris is called "King Wen-nofer"162 and the dead

King Unis is said to sit on the "throne of Osiris."163 Although the popular

Osiris cult challenged the solar cult of Re, the merger did not remove Re from

his position as king of the living. At times both Re and Osiris appear to be

supreme kings but the kingship of Osiris is exclusively in the realm of the


     These examples illustrate the centrality of the kingship of the gods to

Egyptian thinking. These gods are called kings, they sit on thrones, rule, judge

and wear the crown and hold the scepter of a king. As representatives of

elements of the universe "they establish a bond between nature and man, and

that in the only manner in which Egyptians could conceive such a bond-

through kingship."165



     The truth within C. T. Gadd's observation in his 1945 Schweich Lectures,

that "God and king are two conceptions so nearly coupled in the oriental mind

that the distinction is constantly blurred,"166 has been illustrated in the cul-

tures around Israel. The nature and the extent of the association between these

two ideas in Israelite beliefs varies considerably according to the hermeneutical

approach being used.

      S. H. Hooke and his followers in the Myth-Ritual School, drawing heavily

from the earlier works of Frazer,167 developed a standard pattern of myth and

ritual which was allegedly present in all the Near Eastern religions. The kin,

who functions as the chief god, is at the center of this pattern in the great New

Year's festival. In the myth and ritual, the god (i.e. the king) goes through

humiliation, death, resurrection, and a sacred marriage to bring fertility to the

land for the coming year. S. Mowinckel, one of the Scandinavian scholars who

accepts a common ritual pattern, admits that this coherent "pattern" has been

misused by some and that it is really an "artificial schematization."168 This

tendency toward over-identification is also found in I. Engnell's169 study of

royal ideology." Frankfort repeatedly criticizes Engnell's hermeneutical ten-

dency to generalize and overemphasize the unity between the concept of the

king in Israel, Egypt and Mesopptamia.170 Mowinckel carried out an extensive


161 Frankfort, Kingship 181-95.

162 ANET 14.

163 ANET  32.

164 Breasted, Dawn of Conscience 113.

165 Frankfort, Kingship 182.

166 C. T. Gadd, Ideas of Divine Rule in the Ancient East (London: Oxford University

Press, 1948) 33.

167 J. G. Frazer, Lectures on the Early History of Kingship (London: Macmillan, 1905).

168 S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh (New York: Abingdon, 1954) 24-5; J. Gray,

Biblical Doctrine of the Reign of God (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1979) 7-38 summarize,

some of this debate.

169 I. Engnell, Studies in Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East (Uppsala: Almquist

and Wiksells, 1943). See also the careful analysis of the myth-ritual school in J. W. Roger-

son, Myth in Old Testament Interpretation (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1974) 66-84.

170 Frankfort, Kingship 337-44, 355 n.13; 382 n.5; 405 n.l; 408 nn.66-9.

SMITH. GOD/THE GODS AS KING                                                                                 33


study of the "Ideal of Kingship in Ancient Israel" and concludes that Israel did

borrow aspects of Caananite kingship, but this did not amount to a takeover of

Canaanite religion and its view of sacred kingship in an unaltered form.171

Nevertheless, Mowinckel does find a considerable interrelationship, especially

in his study of royal psalms.172

     Israelite kings ruled, shepherded and governed their people, sat upon a

throne in a palace, judged important court cases, and were the commanders-in-

chief of the army just like the kings in other neighboring nations.173 But the

Israelites did not believe the human king was a mediator between God and

men, or the one who integrated and harmonized man with the natural world, as

was the case in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Israelite king was not deified and

did not serve in the cultic drama which re-enacted a divine battle in the New

Year's festival. Human kingship in Israel was introduced well after the forma-

tion of the nation, so this institution appears less significant than kingship in

cultures around Israel.

     These factors draw the focus of attention to the unique character of Israel's

true king, Yahweh. This uniqueness does not deny certain conceptual or func-

tional similarities with the ancient Near Eastern ideas about the kingship of the

gods. Three primary components which unite themselves in the Israelite meta-

phor of God as king are similar to those used in other religions: (a) Yahweh

(as other gods) is Lord and king of the world; (b) Yahweh (as other gods) is a

mighty warrior who destroys his enemies; and (c) Yahweh (as other gods) is a

judge over his kingdom.174


A. The Metaphor of Yahweh the king

     L. Köhler maintains that "God is the ruling Lord: that is the one funda-

mental statement in the theology of the Old Testament….Everything else

derives from it. Everything else leans upon it. Everything else can be under-

stood with reference to it and only it."175 Seeing a similar emphasis, J. Gray

and S. Mowinckel conclude that the kingship of Yahweh is the central theme

of the Old Testament.176 Martin Buber defines the Israelite religion as the


171 Mowinckel, He That Cometh 21-95, esp. 56-9. Compare this with the view of

W. H. Schmidt, Konigtums Gottes in Ugarit und Israel (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1966) 80-82.

172 S. Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israelite Worship (New York: Abingdon, 1962). In

contrast to Mowinckel is the view of Weiser who believes that the enthronement Psalms

were used at the covenant renewal ceremony: A. Weiser, The Psalms (Philadelphia: West-

minster, 1957) 30.

173 A. R. Johnson, "The Role of the King in the Jerusalem Cult," The Labyrinth, ed.

S. H. Hooke (London: Macmillan, 1935) 71-111; J. H. Eaton, Kingship and the Psalms

(London: SCM, 1976); C. R. North, "The Religious Aspect of Hebrew Kingship," ZA W 9

105 (1932) 8-38, T. Ishida, The Royal Dynasties in Ancient Israel (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1977)

38-40, 99-117; K. W. Whitelam, The Just King (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1979) 17-38,


174 J. L. McKenzie, Myth and Realities: Studies in Biblical Theology (Milwaukee:

Bruce, 1963) 114-16.

175 L. Köhler, Old Testament Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1957) 30.

176 Mowinckel, The Psalms.l. 106-92; J. Gray, "The Kingship of God in the Psalms

and Prophets," VT 11 (1961) 1.

34                                                                                                                            TRINITY JOURNAL


belief in the kingship of God,177 while W. Eichrodt claims that the idea which,

binds the Old and New Testament together "is the irruption of the Kingship of;

God into this world and its establishment here."178

     The word "lord" is often used of God. Lordship implies rulership (Gen

45:8; Ps 105:21), but some question the extent to which this emphasis is

present in this title of honor.179 Certainly formulas like "Lord of all the

earth" (Josh 3:11, 13; Ps 97:5; Mic 4:13; Zech 4:14; 6:5) and "God of gods

and lord of lords" (Deut 10:17; Ps 136:3; Dan 10:47) contain this element.

The frequent reference to earthly kings as "my lord, the King" in the Joseph

story 180 and throughout the historical books support the position that the

epithet was not without meaning. In Isaiah's vision, he identifies God the King,

with Yahweh of hosts (6:5) and the Lord who was sitting on a throne (6: 1).

The frequent use of "lord" in prayers, parallel to the usage in other religions,

suggests a relationship of a servant to a master. The term does not require king-

ship imagery (only a higher power who has authority), but when lordship

terminology like "my Lord God" or "the Lord God of hosts"181 are inte-

grated with other epithets, an emphasis on the dominion of God results.182

     Although "lord" is used more frequently, kingship terminology more

precisely identifies the Israelite metaphor which describes God. Psalms contains

the praise of God who is "King of all the earth. ..[who] sits on his holy

throne" (Ps 47:2, 8), the King of Zion (Ps 48:2). He is worshipped as “my

God, my King" (Ps 68:24; 84:3; 145:1) and Zion rejoices in her King (Ps

149:2) for "the Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his

sovereignty rules over all" (Ps 103: 19).

     The kingship of Yahweh relates to all the earth, for the Hebrews like the

other nations connected kingship to creation.183

God is my King from of old, who works deeds of deliverance in the

midst of the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength, thou

didst break the heads of the sea-monsters in the waters….thine is

the day, thine is the night, thou has prepared the light and the sun,

thou hast established all the boundaries of the earth (Ps 74: 12-17).

He is "King at the flood, yes, the Lord sits as King forever," (Ps 29:10), for

just as "the world is firmly established…thy throne is established from of

old" (Ps 93:2). These all point to the fact that "the Lord is a great God, and a

great King above all gods, in whose hands are the depths of the earth...for it

was he who made it" (Ps 95:3-5), for "The earth is the Lord's and all"

contains" (Ps 24:1).

      The kingship of Yahweh is established in the present because "He rules over

the nations" (Ps 22:28), "is the King of all the earth, ...God reigns over the


177 M. Buber, Kingship of God (New York: Harper and Row, 1967).

178 W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961) 26.

179 Ibid. 203.

180 Gen 40:1,7; 42:10, 30, 33; 44:5,7,8,9,16,18,19,20,22,24,33,45:9; 47:25

181 A designation which is related to the concept that God is a warrior.

182 ANET 3-4.

183 G. yon Rad, "melek und malkut irn Alten Testament," TWNT 1 (1933) 563-5.

SMITH. GOD/THE GODS AS KING                                                                                 35


nations" (Ps 47:2, 7-8). Mowinckel translates the enthronement Psalms,

"Yahweh has become King" (Ps 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1),184 but Maag denies'

Mowinckel's emphasis and interpretation and suggests the translation "Yahweh

(and none other) is King."185 Either way, these Psalms relate the kingship of

God to his just rule (Ps 96:10;97:1-2;99:4).

     Both Yahweh and earthly kings attempt to establish justice; and being a

judge was part of the function of a king. The Psalmist in trouble cried out for

help to "my King and my God…thou dost hate all who do iniquity. Hold

them guilty, O God" (Ps 5:2, 5, 10). Yahweh, who is pictured as a king, "dost

sit on the throne judging righteously…hast rebuked the nations…des-

troyed the wicked" (Ps 9:4), for "he has established his throne for judgment,

and he will judge the world in righteousness" (Ps 9:7). In parallelism to "The

Lord reigns" in Ps 96:10 is God's judgment of the peoples with equity which is

further emphasized in v 13. A parallel concept is found in Ps 98:6 and 9.

     Because Yahweh rules and carries out his judgments against his enemies,

God is the Divine Warrior who functions as the King of the earth (Psalm 2), for

"the Lord is King forever and ever, nations have perished from his land" (Ps

10:16). The "King of Glory" in Ps 24:7-10 is "the Lord mighty in battle…

the Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory,"186 and the Psalmist prays: because

"Thou art my King, O God; command victories for Jacob" (Ps 44:4). "He is a

great King over all the earth, he subdues peoples under us, and nations under

our feet" (Ps 47:2-3).


B. Similarities and Comparisons

     The metaphor of Yahweh as King, found in the Psalms, correlates kingship

with component ideas which show harmony as well as contrast when they are

compared to statements concerning the kingship of the gods in Egypt, Mesopo-

tamia, Ugarit and the Hittite Empire. Harmony of terminology and function

appear in varying degrees from country to country. These technical similarities

relate to a common feeling of inferiority before the powerful chief gods/God

and a common anthropomorphic way of describing the gods/God with socio-

political metaphors.187 The functional similarities derive from common expec-

tations and responsibilities which are placed on chief rulers (i.e. defence,

settling disputes, governing justly). These similarities are human responses

which do not require a theory of borrowing, for these factors are represented

and understood differently in different cultures.

     The contrast between ideas of kingship in the ancient Near Eastern cultures

around Israel, which use expressions and statements which resemble one

another, can only be obtained by defining the precise content given to kingship

ideas in each nation. The identification of kingship and the gods is total in

Egypt, for the Pharaoh is a real god who has absolute power over life, justice,


184 Mowinckel, Psalms.l.l07.

185 Maag, "Malkut Jhwh," SVT 4 (1960) 129-53.

186 P. C. Craigie, The Problem of War in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1978) 43; Gray, "Kingship," VT 12 (1962) 2-12.

187 Cross, Canaanite Myth 91-111.

36                                                                                                                            TRINITY JOURNAL


fertility and life after death. In Mesopotamia, the major relationship between

the king and the gods was understood in terms of adoption; this maintained a

distinction between the human king and the gods who were kings. The human

king was elected or chosen by the gods according to their wise plans in Meso-

potamia.188 Thus the gods who are kings have the real powers in Mesopo-

tamia; the human kings are servants of the gods. The cultic worship became the

vehicle by which the Mesopotamian king maintained his close relationship to

the gods in order to bring prosperity and harmony between the nation and the

forces of nature. Because of these differences the focus of kingship is directed

toward the Pharaoh in Egypt, but to the gods who were kings in Mesopotamia.

     Not enough is known about the conceptual framework of the Hittites to

differentiate their way of thinking. Phraseology similar to both Egypt and

Mesopotamia is found.189 The Ugaritic material appears to be more like

Mesopotamian thinking but there is only minimal information on the exact

interrelationship between the king and the gods.190

     The biblical concepts relate more closely to Mesopotamian ideas where the

gods are the true sovereigns of the world. Both include the adoption of the

human king as the son of the gods/God (1 Sam 7: 14), both make the human

king the servant of the gods/God and both recognize that the real power of the

universe rests in the hands of the god-kings, not the human kings. But the con-

trast between the two cultures is possibly more striking than the similarities.


C. Distinctive Aspects of the Kingship of Yahweh

     The biblical concept of God, the relationship of man to God, and the

relationship of the king to God are unique in Israel. This peculiar way of

thinking was due to Israel's alteration of Mesopotamian ideas inherited from

the environment of Abram's youth. Mesopotamian polytheism identified the

gods with the innumerable powers within nature. These were organized into

socio-political and family structures which sometimes destroyed other gods to

gain dominance. The biblical concept of God, especially that found in the

Psalms which relate to the kingship of Yahweh, distinguish clearly between the

Creator and the forces of nature. Nature has no power except Yahweh's for

"The Lord of all the earth" established the sea and earth and regulates their

boundaries (Ps 74: 15-17). When the power of a thousand nature gods is cen-

tralized in the power of one God, he becomes the king in a way which was

foreign to Mesopotamian thinking.

     A second major contrast between Israelite and Mesopotamian thinking was

the distinctive relationship which existed between man and this one true God

srael's relationship was defined by the word of God and the acts of God on

behalf of Israel. Religion was not the means by which one integrated oneself

with the forces of nature, but the integration of man's will with the will of God


188 G. E. Wright, The Old Testament Against its Environment (London: SCM, 63-4.

189 Prankfort, Kingship 238-9.

190 Mowincke1, He That Cometh 51-2.

SMITH. GOD/THE GODS AS KING                                                                                 37


who elected and redeemed him.191 Yahweh, as King, is the sovereign ruler of

all history; and his decisive intervention as the Divine Warrior at the time of the

exodus (Exod 15:3; Ps 74: 12-14) demonstrated both his election of his people

and his own redemptive power. Through his victory over the Egyptians and

their gods, his rulership over all the earth was established (Exod 15:18), and

through the covenant with the Israelite kingdom, Yahweh was established as

the "great Suzerain." The revelation "You are a holy people to the Lord your

God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession

out of all the families who are on the face of the earth" (Deut 7:6), sum-

marizes the unique relationship between Israel and her God. The covenant gave

Yahweh an exclusive position because of his grace, and required total devotion

and obedience to the Suzerain. G. E. Wright believes "the all-pervading sense

of election and covenant, therefore, is the chief clue for the understanding of

Israel's sense of destiny….In other countries of the day, as far as we have

knowledge, there was no comparable conception."192

     A third contrast involves the relationship of the king and God. In Israel, the

king was not the high priest and it was not through the king that God revealed

his will to Israel. Israelite kings were condemned and criticized by the priests

and especially by the prophets, for they were primarily servants of Yahweh,

the real King of Israel. The covenant carefully defined the king's limitation and

demanded obedience to the will of God, the Suzerain (Deut 17:14-20). God

governed and ruled the nation with his laws, defeated the king's enemies, set up

the standards for justice, and received all worship. The sanctity of human king-

ship never developed because the covenant with God, the Great Suzerain,

cemented God and the people together long before the monarchy was accepted

as normative. This depreciation of human kingship parallels a counterbalancing

emphasis on the sovereignty and kingship of Yahweh. The centrality of the

covenant relationship to the unique position of Yahweh as king supports the

premonarchal belief in the kingship of Yahweh.

     When human kingship was introduced during the time of the judges, it was

seen as a partial rejection of the kingship of Yahweh (1 Kgs 8:7; 12: 12-15). An

earlier attempt to raise up Gideon to be king was unacceptable because it was

Yahweh who ruled over the people (Judg 8:22-23). Pentateuchal references to

the kingship of God are found in Deuteronomy 33:5, where God's kingship is

connected to the establishment of the covenant of Sinai, Num 23:21-22; 24:

7-8, which associate kingship with God's victories over the military enemies

of Israel, and Exod 15: 18, which proclaims the eternal reign of Yahweh.193


     The evidence which has been gathered indicates that the ancient Near

Eastern people described their chief gods by using the metaphor of the king.

The use of the same metaphor in Israel indicates a similarity between the ways


191 Engnell (Divine Kingship) makes too much of the Ugaritic material as Noth main-

tains: "God, King, and Nation in the Old Testament," The Laws in the Pentateuch (Phila-

delphia: Fortress, 1967) 157-60.

192 Wright, Old Testament Against its Environment 62-3.

193 See Cross (Canaanite Myth 121-44) for extensive bibliographic notations.

38                                                                                                                            TRINITY JOURNAL


in which Israel and her neighbors explained the power of God/the gods and

pictured the relationship between man and God/the gods. Although Israel's

terminology was the same as the terms used in other ancient Near Eastern cul-

tures, the conceptual images which these terms represent were not always

identical. In all these nations, God/the gods who are kings represented the

highest power, the authority which had the greatest control; but the character,

number and function of God/the gods were quite different. When compared to

other gods, the distinctive authority of Yahweh, the King of Israel, goes far

beyond the dominion of Re who shared his power with the Pharaoh, or Anu

who was one of several gods who were called king. Both these factors have an

effect on our theology of God and raise several questions.

     Could the centrality of kingship terminology in the religions of the ancient

Near Eastern world be an aid which enables the modem mind, which generally

looks negatively on absolute monarchs, to enter the ancient Near Eastern world

view? Could the ancient Near Eastern literature which unites the ruling, judging

and warrior concepts around the central ideology of the kingship of the gods,

be a conceptual framework which will unite the biblical functions of God into

an overarching framework? The present survey suggests that a careful compari-

tive methodology can alert the modem mind to connect and interrelate

conceptual ideas which are distinct in our thinking. This restructuring should

lead to a clearer view of Israel's concept of Yahweh because it provides a con-

textual background and thus highlights some of the similarities and differences

among these religions. It also broadens one's focus and argues against theo-.

logical systems which emphasize only one function of God or only one unique

Israelite idea. For example, the idea of the covenant is of prime importance to

Israelite theology, but it is not inclusive enough a theme to encompass the

universal activity of God. If God is only a national covenant God, the full

picture of God is blurred, limited and actually distorted. The study of the

ancient Near Eastern literature puts the concept of Yahweh into perspective,

and the biblical literature suggests that the kingship or sovereign rule of

Yahweh is of central importance in developing a biblical theology of the Old




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