Essay 1 -- The Discovery of God--

Violence and Order in early Creation Myth.

The following topics give fairly specific instructions (as a guide to those who have difficulty finding direction). Do not feel limited to these topics; if another topic interests you, check with me to be sure that it will suitable (show comparable command of the material).

1) Jacobsen's Model: Assess Jacobsen's theory that NE religion begins in a direct apprehension of the 'numinous.' The primal conception of God is rooted in the fear and awe of early man in his direct encounter with the otherness of nature.

Use close examination of readings to support J's position, or to challenge it. Briefly note the examples that J builds upon, but focus on comparative material, Greek, Egyptian etc. that J does not treat. Does the evidence of other cultures confirm Jacobsen's view of an evolving conception of God (through 3 stages, from immanent life-force, to ruler, to father). In this regard you may want to reexamine the political allegory in Enuma Elish.

2) Sins of the Father: A prominent theme in Creation Myth is 'kin-slaying' or more broadly 'kin-conflict': the prevailing order of the world is the outcome of a cycle of conflict among kindred gods, pitting the younger or subordinate figures against their parents or superiors in rank. What does this pattern tell us about the societies that conceived the stories?

The Freudian option--You may want to test Freud's theory of Oedipal motives in the 'primal horde': God is conceived from the younger men's guilt and fear toward their fathers. Analyze specific examples from the myths we've read.

3) Mother of the World: Consider the role of female figures in ancient Creation Myth, Babylonian, Greek, possibly also Sumerian and Egyptian. They are both the Great Mother, from whom the world process emerges by birth, and the sacrificial victim whose butchering or abuse shapes the emergent cosmos. What do the various roles for the Mother tell us about the societies that conceived the stories?

4) Man Meets his Maker: Compare the various stories of Man's creation and destruction, from Sumerian 'Eridu Genesis' to the Greek tales of Prometheus and the Cycle of 'Ages.' Try to reconstruct the Greek Making of Man from hints in other epics and parallel traditions.

What do these stories tell us about early societies' attitudes regarding human nature?

Method: Whatever your topic, be sure to define the issue clearly in the first paragraph and then support your position with the evidence of key passages, decisive turns in the story. Be substantive: avoid generalizing without specific examples.  Bear in mind these points.

(1) Begin with a 'thesis-statement,' essentially defining your theme and indicating how it will be developed through a discussion of key passages. For instance, exploring topic 2, you might want to compare the characters of Marduk and Zeus as revealed in their own words and in the reactions of others, to reveal how the Greeks and their predecessors conceived of the lord that overthrew his elders to rule the world.

(2) In systematic fashion proceed to interpret the scenes and speeches that are relevant to your theme. Each paragraph should be clearly focused upon the way the passage relates to the theme. Thus, in our hypothetical example--comparison of Zeus and Marduk as parricidal rulers--you would want to examine key passages where his own words or those of his rivals and subjects reflect directly upon his character as ruler. Quote key words or phrases, but do not use block quotes (more than 2-3 lines). Then interpret, don't just summarize-- and no info-dump! Your reference to a sequence of events or content of a speech should clearly give us some insight on the central question of how to understand god's power (e.g. 'Thus from [persistent grievances] against Zeus as 'tyrant' we see the Greek conception of their god as once a cruel autocrat...')

(3) And of course give me a concluding paragraph: tie together the implications of these passages into an overview of your theme in the creation epic and its meaning for the mythmakers. Your essay should be, roughly 4-5 pages. No footnotes or bibliography; cite in parentheses (TD or Theog. with page or line numbers, 77-111, etc.).

You should submit your outline and Essay as e-mail attachments (.doc preferred).

I will promptly send ‘receipt’, and when the Essay is graded I will send it back with notes in the margin.