This year, members of the LDS Church through its Gospel Doctrine curriculum are studying a combination of the Old Testament, and the texts from the Pearl of Great Price with an Old Testament setting (Abraham, Moses).
I’ve decided to do a two-fold reading of these works this year – one as participation in the communal devotional reading and studying of these texts, and one from an historical-critical perspective, approaching and experiencing the texts in the order they were composed, as best as can be determined by scholarship.
This week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson theme is “Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born”, with assigned readings from Abraham 3, Doctrine and Covenants 138, and Moses 4. A key theme of the lesson, according to the manual, is “Abraham and Moses are shown in vision that Jesus Christ was chosen in the Council in Heaven to be our Savior and that we chose to follow him.” Other bloggers have done some great and thoughtful analyses of this lesson, such as Ben Spackman and Joe Spencer. I’ve even considered an alternate and expanded narrative of these passages a few years ago, in my blog post, “The Three Rejected Roles of Satan”.
It was with all of these thoughts rolling around in my mind, that I sat down for what I had intended to be an unrelated historical critical study, and read the 18th Century BCE Akkadian epic of Atrahasis.
Most of you likely have never hear of it. I don’t blame you. It’s one of the ancient stories containing creation and flood stories that substantially pre-date the composition of what we have in Genesis today. It’s preserved in a choppy form, and only pretty determined history nerds (like myself) persist through it. I’ve read it before a few years ago, but decided to revisit it as part of re-familiarizing myself with the world and traditions that pre-dated the composition of the biblical texts. I’m glad I did.
The story begins with a narrative of a hierarchy of gods prior to the creation of mankind. On the surface, it couldn’t be more different than the scriptural stories we are familiar with, and will be covering in class. In Atrahasis, it is decided that Mankind will be created because the lesser tier of gods, the Igigi, had been tasked with the dirty work of literally digging out and cultivating the newly formed world, and, feeling they were being worked too hard, revolted against their superiors, the Annunaki. This attempted war in the heavens resulted in the peace-making decision to create a new servant class a little below the Igigi to properly see to the dirty work of cultivating the new world – humans.
The creation of humans, however, was a messy affair. It required one of the gods, one “who had intelligence”, to be slain, and to have his flesh and blood mixed in with clay. That mixture of divine essence and earth would be formed to create the first humans.
I was struck by this story, and immediately reminded me of how each Sunday, we participate in a ritual where we re-enact the slaying of a God, and the distributing of the symbolic elements of His divine flesh and blood into our own bodies of “clay”.
While I have previously written some of my ponderings on the profound significance of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the context of seeing ourselves as members of the Body of Christ, it took this reading of this ancient story to affect me again, in seeing this ritual and ordinance as an act of creation, in essence, a way of seeing oneself Born Again as a result of the sacrifice of a God, one who proclaimed, “I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.” (Abraham 3:19)
In pondering this, I recalled the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:15, 17, “And that he [Christ] died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again….Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:old things are passed away; behold, all things are becomenew.”
While the humans formed by the slaying of a God in the ancient tale of Atrahasis were designed to be slaves, we see the powerful reversal of this story in the doctrine of Christianity, where the slaying of the god “before the foundation of the world” was done to the end of setting mankind free, and to establish what were initially seen as “a little lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:7) into a new creation destined to be “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:17).