Monday, January 2, 2012

Of Dung Beetles and Red Herrings

Alice C. Linsley

In Ugaritic texts the liver and the heart are often correlated. This correlation came into Hebrew poetry, reflecting the influence of Babylonian culture on post-exilic Jews. The Ugaritic kbd (liver) stands in poetic parallelism with lb (heart). This is demonstrated in the Babylonian libbaki linuhkabittaki lipsab, meaning “May thy heart be at rest, thy liver be pacified.” (American Journal of Theology, Vol 2, p. 136. University of Chicago Divinity School

This parallelism from Babylonian culture led Bible translators to translate heart as liver in many Bible passages. Lamentations 2:11 is an example. "Mine eyes fail with tears, my heart is troubled; My liver is poured upon the earth..." (American Standard Version)

Allen P. Ross (Beeson Divinity School) has said that a Jew in ancient times would not say, "I love you with my whole heart" but rather “I love you with my whole liver." However, this parallelism is not found among Abraham’s Kushite ancestors for whom the heart was the single organ that was not extracted from the mummified body. All the other organs were removed and stored in canopic jars. Further, in ancient Egyptian medical texts the liver and the heart are not correlated. Egyptian physicians were well aware of the different functions of these organs.
Babylonian clay sheep liver dated between 2000 and 1500 BC (British Museum)  Babylonian priests used the livers of sacred sheep to investigate the cause of illness, to divine the future and to determine the will of the gods. 

It is clear that the parallelism of liver and heart in Old Testament poetry does not come from the Hebrew ancestors (Horim), but from the Babylonians. This post-exilic influence is a red herring when it comes to the Horite understanding of the heart and its importance for the resurrection of the dead.

Abraham’s Horite people viewed the heart as the mind and the seat of decision-making. The heart was the essential organ when it came to resurrection of the body, as it would be weighed in the afterlife. The body of the pure hearted would rise from the dead, as the sun rise in the morning. This is the significance of the dung beetle scarab, placed over the mummy's heart.

This beetle rolls balls of dung along the ground and deposits them in its burrows. The female lays her eggs in the dung ball and when they hatch, the larvae feed off the dung until they emerge from the earth. The orb of the lowly beetle replicated on earth the solar orb of the Creator.  Both were seen to sink below the earth and were believed to give life to those buried in the earth.

Among Abraham’s ancestors the heart was believed to be the seat of the will. It was weighed in the afterlife and only the pure heart would receive resurrection from the dead. David, a direct descendant of Abraham, confessed his sin to God, and prayed, "Create in me a pure heart, O God." (Ps. 51:10) None have been so foolish as to translate this “Create in me a pure liver…” It is the pure heart that hopes for resurrection.

For the Horites the heart was the seat of the inner being. This is expressed in these words: "Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart." (Ps. 51:6)

The heart among Abraham’s Nilotic people was associated with the mind and decision-making. "I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." (Ps. 119:11) Again, no Bible translator has thought to translate this “I have stored up your word in my liver..."  To do so would be to impose a foreign notion on Horite theology.

Related reading:  Solar Imagery of the Proto-Gospel; A Tent for the Sun, Marcus Byrne: The Dance of the Dung Beetle


Anonymous said...

Hi Alice,

Happy New Year. I am currently discerning a vocation to the religious life in the RC church and have learnt a few things in the process. There is so much confusion because the entire meaning of a religious vocation has been lost.

It's a bit like joining the army, where nobody knows ahead of time what the outcome is going to be.

Some people just come in with a list and throw a brat fit when things don't go their one. They end up blaming the church, God, and everybody else.

What's missing is faith and trust in God to carry them threw as they work on their commitment.

I have now realized that you can't debate the meaning of priesthood with people, when they don't understand what a religious vocation is to begin with.

What do you think?


Alice C. Linsley said...

I agree that debating the meaning of the priesthood is futile. Either one gets it or not.

There are numerous factors behind the confusion which you describe. All point to a loss of a truely Christian context in society. One factors is the general attitude of intitlement. Some think that they are entitled to pursue any path, as if the religious life were a career.

Another factor is the general loss of regard for purity. Even the religious seeking to live pure lives are smeared by the filth of priests who have defiled themselves. This is a Satanic attack on the one true priest - Jesus Christ.

Another factor is lack of discipline and self-control.

Yet another factor is lack of regard for authority and obedience to the authorities. The inclination today is to distrust authority. Such inclination makes it impossible to live in obedience to one's superior.

I will pray for you, Savvy, that the Holy Spirit will endow you with much grace as you pursue His call upon your life.

Anonymous said...

In Malay/Indonesian, liver is "hati", it is used in song as heart is used in English song.

Anonymous said...

Thank You Alice. Yes, commitment is totally up to individuals.

Nothing worth it is ever easy. Even in a job, one cannot always throw a fit when things do not go one's way.

Why do people expect the religious life to be an exception?

You are right it's a constant attack on the people of God.