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43. Peter Machinist

*Machinist is currently the Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages at Harvard University.

*Education: AB, Harvard University (1966); MPhil, PhD, Yale University (1978)

Machinist's interest is in the cultural, intellectual, and social history of the ancient Near East. He focuses on the interconnections in the ancient Near East, particularly the connection between ancient Israel/Hebrew Bible and ancient Mesopotamia. Within this framework, his research topics include the ideology of imperialism and other forms of group identification; ancient historiography; mythology; prophecy; Assyrian history; and the history of modern biblical and other Near Eastern scholarship. While his works cover the different topics listed above, a survey of Machinist's written works shows most works to be about four main themes: 1) Assryia and the Bible (particularly Isaiah/Assyria and Nahum/Ninevah; 2) Identity of Israel in contrast to its neighbors/enemies; 3) Historiography in ANE; and 4) Monotheism/Israelite Religion. Below, I have included summaries of some of his well-known articles.

In his classic essay, "Assryia and the Bible," Machinist shows that 1st Isaiah (chps 1-39) describes Assyria with language that resembles Assyria's own description in it's royal propaganda records. He concludes that Isaiah was familiar with Assyrian propaganda and incorporated such depictions of Assyria within 1st Isaiah. In the essay, "Outsiders or Insiders: The Biblical View of Emergent Israel and Its Contexts," Machinist argues that Israel's identity was centrally a counter-identity! Their status as emerging from the fringes of society was their counter-identity. In the essay, “How Gods Die, Biblically and Otherwise. A Problem of Cosmic Restructuring,” Machinist analyzes Psalm 82. He Concludes that it is a Psalm about Elohim (=YHWH) taking over the other elohim in the council who were not able to take care of justice and equity, so YHWH took over. In essence, it is a Psalm about the emergence of monotheism/henotheism within ancient Israel.

Selected Works:

1) Assryia and the Bible (particularly Isaiah/Assyria and Nahum/Ninevah

a) “Assyria and Its Image in the First Isaiah,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 103 [1983], pp. 719-737. Very important article!

In this classic article, Machinist shows that 1st Isaiah (chps 1-39) describes Assyria with language that resembles Assyria's own description in it's royal propaganda records. So, both Isaiah and Assyrian records speak of Assyria as a powerful military machine with chariots; both speak of Assyria cutting down cedars and junipers in Lebanon; both speak of Assyria devastating, destroying, and burning cities; both speak of uprooting peoples; both speak of Assyria as raging waters that overcome enemies; also, both speak of Assyria as lions and as yokes placed upon its enemies. 

Machinist even argues that Isaiah intentionally inverts some this Assyrian propaganda; e.g., "his yoke shall depart from them (=Israel)" (Isa 14:25; 10:27), which is an inversion of the typical propaganda that Assyria places yokes on those it subdues. Also, certain Assyrian texts proclaim that the Assyrian king achieved victory by the help of Šamaš; but Isaiah (10:13) uses the same language when speaking of the Assyrian king, and Isaiah removes the reference to Šamaš, thereby demonstrating the hubris of the Assyrian king which constitutes a rejection of YHWH.

Machinist explains these similarities by arguing that Isaiah was familiar with Assyrian idioms through Assyrian propaganda. This propaganda was disseminated through speeches (2; Kgs 18; Rab Shaqeh) but also through Assyria's setting up of royal steles in conquered territories; these steles were probably in Aramaic (compare Tel Fekhariyeh stel; it's not royal propaganda, but it is bilingual, in Akkadian and Aramaic); royal Assryian steles were found in Samaria and Ashdod!

Machinist closes the article by mentioning the oracle of Nahum against Ninevah which are clear references to the oracles of Isaiah against Assyria. Thus, Nahum is arguing that the promises of God against Assyria came true in the destruction of Ninevah in Nahum's time.

This classic article clearly shows Machinist's interest in connecting the Hebrew Bible with Assyrian texts.

b) Nahum (volume of Biblical commentary for the Hermeneia Commentary series;

Fortress Press). In preparation.

c) “Kingship and Divinity in Imperial Assyria, ” in Gary Beckman and Theodore J. Lewis, eds., Text, Artifact, and Image. Revealing Ancient Israelite Religion (Providence: Brown Judaic Studies vol. 346, 2006), pp. 152-188. (not at APS)

2) Identity of Israel in contrast to its neighbors/enemies

a)“Outsiders or Insiders: The Biblical View of Emergent Israel and Its Contexts,” in L.J. Silberstein & R.L. Cohn ( eds.), The Other in Jewish Thought and History. Constructions of  Jewish History and Identity (New York: New York University Press, 1994), pp. 35-60).

*Machinist lays out all Biblical references to the Exodus tradition; there are many such passages within the Hebrew Bible. Machinist exams these passages and the notion behind it that Israel came from the outside into Canaan. Suggests that perhaps this Israelite notion can be compared to other "outsider" myths among other mediterranean societies.

b)“The Question of Distinctiveness in Ancient Israel: An Essay,” in M. Cogan and I. Eph’al (eds.,), Ah, Assyria...Studies in Assyrian History and Ancient Near Eastern Historiography Presented to Hayim Tadmor

*Machinist evaluates all the Biblical passages which speak of Israel's distinctiveness. He writes to ascertain what exactly is at the core of Israel's distinctiveness. Two points emerege from his study. Firstly, the passages in question mention Israel and their God, YHWH. That is, their distinctiveness is tied to their special relationship with their God. Secondly, Israel's status as a newcomer that came from the margins during the collapse of the LBA, also sets Israel apart. While in Egypt or another great nation, being a newcomer was considered a negative trait. Israel has a sort of "counter-identity". That is, its lowly status set it apart as distinctive.

c)“The Rab Shaqeh at the Wall of Jerusalem: Israelite Identity in the Face of the Assyrian ‘Other’,” Hebrew Studies 41 (2000), pp. 151-168.

3) Monotheism/Israelite Religion.

a) “Mesopotamian Imperialism and Israelite Religion: A Case Study from the Second Isaiah,” in Symbiosis, Symbolism and the Power of the Past: Canaan, Ancient Israel and Their Neighbors. Centennial Symposium of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research and the American Schools of Oriental Research, eds., W.G. Dever and S. Gitin. (Winona Lake, IN:

Eisenbrauns, 2003), pp. 237-264.

b) “How Gods Die, Biblically and Otherwise. A Problem of Cosmic Restructuring,” in Beate Pongratz-Leisten, ed., Revolutionary Monotheism (tentative title) (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, in publication).

Analyzes Psalm 82. Concludes that it is a Psalm about Elohim (=YHWH) taking over the other elohim in the council who were not able to take care of justice and equity, so YHWH took over. Elohim (=YHWH) absorbs the responsibilities of the other elohim. This is similar to Marduk taking over the Mesopotamian pantheon in Enuma Elish. In essence, Psalm 82 is a type of etiology which explains how the word elohim can serve as both a singular (Elohim=YHWH) and a plural (referring to other gods in the divine council). Ultimately, this Psalm is about the development of monotheism; but in this Psalm, we have not yet arrived at monotheism, but we are on the road there. In this Psalm, we are in a henotheism stage, during which one god becomes the supreme god.

4) Historiography in ANE

a) “The Voice of the Historian in the Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean World,” Interpretation 57/2 (April, 2003), pp. 117-137.

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