Trinity Journal 3 NS (1982) 18-38.
Copyright © 1982 by Trinity Journal, cited with permission.
THE CONCEPT OF GOD/THE GODS AS KING IN THE
ANCIENT NEAR EAST AND THE BIBLE
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
 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
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
theological relationship between
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
similarities or the differences between
CONCEPT OF A GOD AS KING IN
There is much about the beliefs of the
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,
determiner of destinies."13 In the lamentation over the destruction
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) (
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;
Tammuz and other Essays on Mesopotamian History and Culture (
University Press) 158; N. Postgate, The Making of the Past: The First Empires (
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,
(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 (
10 ANET 383 line 34.
11ANET 390 line 12.
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
defiant."20 In the myth of Enki and
"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
lamentation over the destruction of
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
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
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
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.
II. THE CONCEPT OF A GOD AS KING IN UGARITIC LITERATURE
In the northwest Semitic culture at
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
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
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
Religions 172; G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (
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
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-
monarch ruling from
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-
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)
Alt, Essays in Old Testament History and Religion (
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 (
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
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.
III. THE CONCEPT OF A GOD AS KING AMONG THE HITTITES
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 (
also 1977) 1-20; H. G. Guterbock, "Hittites Religion," Ancient
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
hypothesis on the instructions for
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
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 (
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.
123 ANET 205.
SMITH GOD/THE GODS AS KING 29
Ullikimus and is considered by some to be the "supreme king. ..the real king
owner of the
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
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.
CONCEPT OF A GOD AS KING IN
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
divine. In art, the white crown and vulture of
Lower Egypt," "Lord of the
fied kings. Since the Pharaoh was divine,
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
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
land.132 An impressive synthesis of the meaning of "king" in
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.
132 S. Morenz, Egyptian Religion (London: Methuen, 1973) 11-13; A. Erman, Life in
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
A. The Kingship of Re
The Turin Papyrus and Manetho list Re, the sun-god, as the first king in
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
first."139 The early sun-god of
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
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
135 J. H. Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience (New York: Scribner's, 1934) 19.
136 V. Ions, Egyptian Mythology (Middlesex: Harnlyn, 1968) 14.
138 ANET 446-47. Thut-mose III sits upon the throne of Re.
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
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
the gods and of all creation.151 At first, the god Seth was made the king of
and the god Horus the king of
Horus the kingship over all
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,
the king of Upper and
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
called "the good king of
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
place where Osiris is "considered the supreme
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.
152 ANET 4-5.
154 Morenz, Egyptian Religion 34.
155 ANET 17.
156 ANET 378.
157 ANET 379.
159 Ions, Egyptian Mythology 50.
160 Ibid. 55;
32 TRINITY JOURNAL
seasonal agriculture cycle, the seasonal rise and fall of 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-
CONCEPT OF GOD AS KING IN
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-
two ideas in Israelite beliefs varies considerably according to the hermeneutical
approach being used.
S. H. Hooke and
his followers in the
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
dency to generalize and overemphasize the unity between the concept of the
162 ANET 14.
163 ANET 32.
164 Breasted, Dawn of Conscience 113.
T. Gadd, Ideas of Divine Rule in the Ancient East
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.
Engnell, Studies in Divine Kingship in the Ancient
Near East (
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.
SMITH. GOD/THE GODS AS KING 33
the "Ideal of Kingship in Ancient Israel" and concludes that
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
did not serve in the cultic drama which re-enacted a divine battle in the New
Year's festival. Human kingship in
tion of the nation, so this institution appears less significant than kingship in
These factors draw the focus of attention
to the unique character of
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
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
H. Schmidt, Konigtums Gottes
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 (
minster, 1957) 30.
173 A. R.
Johnson, "The Role of the King in the
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 (
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
the kingship of God,177 while
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 , 13; Ps 97:5; Mic ; Zech ; 6:5) and "God of gods
and lord of lords" (Deut ; Ps 136:3; Dan ) 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
King" (Ps 68:24; 84:3; 145:1) and
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 ), "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
). 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
statements concerning the kingship of the gods in
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
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
184 Mowinckel, Psalms.l.l07.
185 Maag, "Malkut Jhwh," SVT 4 (1960) 129-53.
C. Craigie, The
Problem of War in the Old Testament (
1978) 43; Gray, "Kingship," VT 12 (1962) 2-12.
187 Cross, Canaanite Myth 91-111.
36 TRINITY JOURNAL
life after death. In
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
Not enough is known about the conceptual framework of the Hittites to
differentiate their way of thinking. Phraseology similar to both
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 ), 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
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
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 (
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 ), 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
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
knowledge, there was no comparable conception."192
A third contrast involves the relationship
of the king and God. In
king was not the high priest and it was not through the king that God revealed
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 -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; -15). An
earlier attempt to raise up Gideon to be king was unacceptable because it was
Yahweh who ruled over the people (Judg -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
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
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
relationship between man and God/the gods. Although
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
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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