Monday 4 November 2013

From the Deep - Drawing Borders - Leviathan in Job 26

10] He drew a boundary on the face of the waters, at the border between light and darkness. 11] The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at His reproof.

12] By His power He stirs up the sea (Yam), and by His skill he struck Rahav. 13] By His wind He calmed the heavens; His hand slew the swift serpent (Nachash).

14] Behold, those are but parts of His ways; and how little is the thing that is heard of Him - who can understand the thunder of His power?

י חֹ֣ק חָ֭ג עַל־פְּנֵי־מָ֑יִם עַד־תַּכְלִ֖ית א֣וֹר עִם־חֽשֶׁךְ: יא עַמּוּדֵ֣י שָׁמַ֣יִם יְרוֹפָ֑פוּ וְ֝יִתְמְה֗וּ מִגַּֽעֲרָתֽוֹ: יב בְּ֭כֹחוֹ רָגַ֣ע הַיָּ֑ם ובתובנת֗ו [וּ֝בִתְבוּנָת֗וֹ] מָ֣חַץ רָֽהַב: יג בְּ֭רוּחוֹ שָׁמַ֣יִם שִׁפְרָ֑ה חֹֽלְלָה יָ֝ד֗וֹ נָחָ֥שׁ בָּרִֽיחַ: יד הֶן־אֵ֤לֶּה ׀ קְצ֬וֹת דרכו [דְּרָכָ֗יו] וּמַה־שֵּׁ֣מֶץ דָּ֭בָר נִשְׁמַע־בּ֑וֹ וְרַ֥עַם גבורתו [גְּ֝בוּרוֹתָ֗יו] מִ֣י יִתְבּוֹנָֽן:

In Job 26, Job is speaking once again (funny how, in a book of conversations between Job and his 3 friends only Job ever mentions sea monsters... we'll talk about this in two weeks time when we review the book of Job as a whole), and he describes how God slew the sea monster at the time of creation (when God drew a boundary around the waters).

We see three words/phrases used in parallel - Yam, Rahav and Nachash Bariach. I wrote about Yam here, Psalm 74,, and Nachash Bariach, the swift serpent here on Isaiah 27, but while we saw Rahav mentioned in Isaiah 51, I haven't written much about the significance of this particular name of the sea monster.

Today is Rahav's day.

While Yam is found in Canaanite mythology, and Tehom is related to the monster Tiamat from Babylon, Rahav alone seems to be a uniquely Israelite monster. There are no parallel monsters with similar names in other mythologies.

But what does Rahav mean?

According to the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, it's probably related to the Hebrew root RHB meaning to assail or press in combat. Even more interestingly, it may be related to the Akkadian word Rubu, meaning overflow, used of both water and rage.

Rahav then is the attacking monster of overflowing rage and water, bursting its bonds to assail creation. In other words, the classic monster of primordial chaos.

In Job 9, Rahav is described as having helpers, minions if you will, that fought with it. Here in Job 26, Job describes the order of creation that resulted from the destruction of Rahav.

Elsewhere Rahav is associated with Egypt (Isaiah 30:7, Psalm 87), perhaps for similar reasons that we saw with Ezekiel 29 and 32 that connected Pharaoh with the primeval sea monster, the Tanin. There's also a reference in Psalm 40 to Rehavim, perhaps using the word as a general term for demons.

What does this have to teach us?

I've written a lot in 'From the Deep' about the virtues of chaos, how it is necessary for creativity, but here we see the Bible making a strong argument for divine order, for boundaries and rules. The monster's very essence is overflowing, uncontainable, overreaching all borders - and this is the chaotic forces that God needs to strike down, setting up restrictions on the sea as the day is divided from the night.

In Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman' comic, the Emperor Augustus Caesar reflects on the power of borders. He says: "Terminus, the god of boundaries. Jupiter must bow to him; boundaries are the most important of things..."

In a polytheistic system, the chief god must bow to Terminus, and respect boundaries. In a monotheistic system like ours, the boundaries are themselves created by God. For without borders to separate between things, there would be nothing distinguishable at all.

We need rules for the sake of creating a society where we can be at ease and safe. Divisions between people and groups enable different perspectives, help with finding creative solutions, and allow us to see things from other points of view.

While the chaos monster may be necessary, ultimately it is order that we most need. Our God, that demands ordered society and ethical behaviour, must be the one that slays the chaos monster.

Next week on 'From the Deep' - Job 40-1 - A Description of Leviathan

'From the Deep' has been made possible by Nishma, a summer of learning in the JTS Beit Midrash.

No comments:

Post a Comment