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Laws of Heaven – Laws of Nature : Legal Interpretations of Cosmic Phenomena in the Ancient World


Laws of Heaven – Laws of Nature : Legal Interpretations of Cosmic Phenomena in the Ancient World. Edited by: Schmid, Konrad; Uehlinger, Christoph (2016). Fribourg / Göttingen: Academic Press Fribourg.

Abstract

In Western academic contexts, the idea of “laws of nature” is often regarded as having originated among the pre-Socratics, Plato, and the Stoics. But this view is historically incorrect. Legal interpretations of cosmic phenomena go back to the ancient Near East, where such understandings also emerged in the Hebrew Bible. The present volume analyzes texts relevant to this topic, developing a fresh approach to portrayals of “laws of nature” from antiquity. K. Schmid draws attention to some blind spots of Western history of science and to biblical texts mentioning “laws of heaven” (ḥuqqôt šāmayîm, Job 38:33), “laws of heaven and earth” (ḥuqqôt šāmayîm wā’āreṣ, Jer 33:25) or “ordinances” (ḥuqqôt) imposed on the moon and the stars (Jer 31:25). Such concepts can be compared to the Mesopotamian concept of a supreme god establishing like a legislator the rules of cosmic order. That background is elucidated in detail by F. Rochberg, whose contribution considers the Mesopotamian trope of the divine judiciary and its extension to the physical world, and discusses the question whether the case-law formulation of Akkadian omen statements (protasis-apodosis, “if P, then Q”) should be understood as evidence for a law-like understanding of cosmic order. W. Horowitz starts from Gen 9:12–17 to study the Akkadian terminology and ominous interpretations of the rainbow, which can be either benefic or malefic. F. Naether in a broad survey demonstrates that in Egypt, too, divination operated with law-like notions; she reviews texts which discuss natural phenomena without necessarily relating them to divine agency, and identifies early attempts to a “philosophy of nature.” D. P. Wright, who offers a detailed study of law and creation in the Priestly-Holiness writings of the Pentateuch, highlights the differentiation established between universal conditions in creation, on the one hand, and knowledge (on sacrifice, the calendar, purity and holiness, the name of Yahweh and his kābôd) made specifically available to Israel as Yahweh’s chosen people, on the other. J. L. Cooley analyzes Isa 2:1–4 against the background of ancient Mesopotamian divination, concluding that the biblical oracle provides a counter-narrative to Mesopotamian traditions regarding the effectiveness and antiquity of its divination tradition. M. Albani argues that in 1 Henoch the focus on astronomy and astral regularity forms the basis of an ideal calendar of 364 days, whose constance should serve as an antidote to anomia experienced in Hellenistic-period “Enochic Judaism.” J. Hüfner, professor emeritus of theoretical physics, reviews some elementary astronomical principles discovered in antiquity, such as periodicity, increasing use of mathematics, and of models to apprehend the planetary system. C. Uehlinger summarizes common views and divergencies between the various materials surveyed, stressing the problematic status of the concept of “nature” with regard to ancient Near Eastern materials and pointing out the longevity, all but obvious after all, of the legal metaphor which still operates in contemporary discourse on the “laws of nature”.

Abstract

In Western academic contexts, the idea of “laws of nature” is often regarded as having originated among the pre-Socratics, Plato, and the Stoics. But this view is historically incorrect. Legal interpretations of cosmic phenomena go back to the ancient Near East, where such understandings also emerged in the Hebrew Bible. The present volume analyzes texts relevant to this topic, developing a fresh approach to portrayals of “laws of nature” from antiquity. K. Schmid draws attention to some blind spots of Western history of science and to biblical texts mentioning “laws of heaven” (ḥuqqôt šāmayîm, Job 38:33), “laws of heaven and earth” (ḥuqqôt šāmayîm wā’āreṣ, Jer 33:25) or “ordinances” (ḥuqqôt) imposed on the moon and the stars (Jer 31:25). Such concepts can be compared to the Mesopotamian concept of a supreme god establishing like a legislator the rules of cosmic order. That background is elucidated in detail by F. Rochberg, whose contribution considers the Mesopotamian trope of the divine judiciary and its extension to the physical world, and discusses the question whether the case-law formulation of Akkadian omen statements (protasis-apodosis, “if P, then Q”) should be understood as evidence for a law-like understanding of cosmic order. W. Horowitz starts from Gen 9:12–17 to study the Akkadian terminology and ominous interpretations of the rainbow, which can be either benefic or malefic. F. Naether in a broad survey demonstrates that in Egypt, too, divination operated with law-like notions; she reviews texts which discuss natural phenomena without necessarily relating them to divine agency, and identifies early attempts to a “philosophy of nature.” D. P. Wright, who offers a detailed study of law and creation in the Priestly-Holiness writings of the Pentateuch, highlights the differentiation established between universal conditions in creation, on the one hand, and knowledge (on sacrifice, the calendar, purity and holiness, the name of Yahweh and his kābôd) made specifically available to Israel as Yahweh’s chosen people, on the other. J. L. Cooley analyzes Isa 2:1–4 against the background of ancient Mesopotamian divination, concluding that the biblical oracle provides a counter-narrative to Mesopotamian traditions regarding the effectiveness and antiquity of its divination tradition. M. Albani argues that in 1 Henoch the focus on astronomy and astral regularity forms the basis of an ideal calendar of 364 days, whose constance should serve as an antidote to anomia experienced in Hellenistic-period “Enochic Judaism.” J. Hüfner, professor emeritus of theoretical physics, reviews some elementary astronomical principles discovered in antiquity, such as periodicity, increasing use of mathematics, and of models to apprehend the planetary system. C. Uehlinger summarizes common views and divergencies between the various materials surveyed, stressing the problematic status of the concept of “nature” with regard to ancient Near Eastern materials and pointing out the longevity, all but obvious after all, of the legal metaphor which still operates in contemporary discourse on the “laws of nature”.

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Additional indexing

Other titles:Himmelsgesetze – Naturgesetze. Rechtsförmige Interpretationen kosmischer Phänomene in der antiken Welt
Item Type:Edited Scientific Work
Communities & Collections:01 Faculty of Theology > Institute of Theology
01 Faculty of Theology > Institute of Religious Studies
Special Collections > Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis
08 University Research Priority Programs > Asia and Europe
Dewey Decimal Classification:230 Christianity & Christian theology
Language:English, German
Date:2016
Deposited On:25 Aug 2016 10:51
Last Modified:09 Jun 2017 09:37
Publisher:Academic Press Fribourg
Series Name:Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis
Volume:276
ISSN:1015-1850
ISBN:978-3-7278-1773-1
Funders:Schweizerische Akademie der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften
Related URLs:http://www.paulusedition.ch/academic_press/product.php?id_product=1567 (Publisher)

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