Cain-unsavvy Ninurta?


From the Edict of Telepinu (CTH 19, KBo 3.1 ii 27–30), we get to know about the distance in reputation between courtly life and the agricultural work among the Hittites in late 16th century B. C., because "conspirators against Telipinu have their weapons taken from them, are given yokes and turned into 'simple ploughmen'" (LÚ(.MEš)APIN.LÁ, Weeden 2011: 159; Pecchioli-Daddi 1982 [1]: 13-15; HF 94). From this historical record, we get a confirmation – were it ever needed – of the universal dignity of those admitted among the monarch's close friends or better adopted by him to become "king's sons."

However, this is only one aspect of the matter, and not even the most relevant, as we have a chance to learn about the value of a symbol taken from the sphere of farming to represent the sexual and the social submission of woman to man. When Telepinu imposed the yoke onto the rebels, he followed a pattern by which the order had to be re-established through the humiliation of the former warriors, now bereft of their weapons and forced to kneel under the yoke (Bachvarova 2010 [2]). The Paskuwatti ritual (CTH 406, Hoffner 1987 [3]: 286; Pringle 1993 [4]: 143) provides the evidence we need about the yoke as a symbol of gender domination and the Hittite military oaths (Oettinger 1976 [5]; Beal 2001 [6]) confirm the use of female signs of submission.

The yoke and the implements of ploughing belong to the repertoire of punishment and also to the scene of the death penalty, as told by Palace chronicles: a man is executed on top of a mountain in front of two relatives (Hoffner 2000 [7]: 70) yoked as animals, to represent the total control of the king, who submits his enemies with the might of the Storm God (Gilan 2004 [8]: 284, 290). In the so-called "Initiation rite for the Hittite prince" (CTH 633, Güterbock 1997 [9]: 111-114; Haas 2003 [10]: 710-711; Taggar-Cohen 2010 [11]; Mouton 2011 [12]; De Martino 2018 [13]), we find the king's son (DUMU.LUGAL, Imparati 1975 [14]; Jasink Ticchioni 1977 [15]) dealing with the symbols of land's and human fertility, among which the plough holds an exceptional value. The image of the king as a farmer, his plough burnt on the tenth day of his funerals (CTH 450.1.1.3; Bachvarova 2016 [16]: 104 n. 7) are signs of power and masculinity confirmed by the Song of Hedammu (CTH 348.I.1): among the basic activities endangered by the monster Kumarbi, there are ploughing and grinding, and the intervention of the Storm God as ploughman, of Ištar und Ḫepat as grinders would be the absurd exit strategy (Bachvarova 2005 [17]: 54-55; Güterbock 1997 [9]: 44).

The same works are part of the above-mentioned princely rite, where on the second day, twelve ploughmen lift yokes in the temple of the goddess Kattaḫḫa (Güterbock 1997 [9]: 112), while other functionaries and priests make flour with a hand mill. These two occupations represent the standard division of labour between man and woman in ANE, clearly exemplified in another text, a Hurro-Hittite hymn to Ištar (CTH 717), which describes a situation of cosmic disorder caused, among other things, by not ploughing and making flour (Wilhelm 1994 [18]: 70; Güterbock 1997 [9]: 66). The Hittite sources examined so far may have an import to understand the first chapters of Genesis.

As Eve feels the need to use a Hittite word, namely kaina-, to name her first-born, investigating the possible influences of a supposed Anatolian milieu is necessary. A point to make first of all is demystifying the axiom about the ancestral couple's nakedness, mostly interpreted according to the prejudice that forbids to take into due account the first commandment given by God: "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gn 1:28). Albeit in the Bible, being blessed with children is on par with enjoying the abundance of earth resources, we cannot expect a transparent continuity with the Mesopotamian literary tradition in this domain, because the very ancient metaphor of ploughing, already at work in Sumerian texts, was a symbol of the sacred marriage which involved Dumuzi and Innana (Lambert 1987 [19]: 27-30; Stol 2016 [20]: 645-646). All the fertility cults widespread in the land of Canaan, mostly connected to Asherah (Dever 1984 [21]; Day 1986 [22]; Halpern 1993 [23]; Na'aman & Lissovsky 2008 [24]; Ackerman 2008 [25]) were perceived and treated as a threat to the true God in Israel; therefore, we should expect to be able to view their traces only as a watermark.

When it comes to the nakedness of Adam and Eve, their condition is ambivalent from a symbolical point of view: the nudity of the first couple, bound to mate to obey God's first commandment, and, at the same time, to take care of the garden and fulfil the main duty of ploughing, allows some further considerations. An ancient tradition voiced by Hesiod's Erga (391-93): "naked sow and naked drive the oxen, and naked reap, if you want to bring in Demeter's works all in due season, so that you have each crop grow in season" (West 1988 [26]; Sturtevant 1912 [27]; Tovar 1983 [28]) offers a new theme to develop: ploughing should be done in the nude, according to the Greek poet. In his eyes, this agricultural work becomes the symbol of the order ruling human activities overall and is connected to an astral sign, the heliacal setting of the Pleiades and to the advent of rain. This relationship is stressed by the recommendation to be wary of another occasion sent by Zeus to have rain nonetheless, if the due time was missed (483-488). Anyway, rain is fundamental for the success of sowing (461-463, West 1988: 274; West 1988: 50-51) and the production of cereals, a goal shared with Genesis, which prescribed a vegetarian diet for the first human beings, bound to eat the "grain of the field" (2:18).

Another prejudice to avoid when dealing with Adam and Eve is to consider their life in the garden some sort of princely vacation (Wyatt 1988 [29]; Wyatt 2014 [30]). WG has masterly clarified this point (220-222) in his exegesis of Gn 2:15 and concluded that the verbs "tilling and keeping" are used by the narrator having in mind "the work of the Palestinian farmer" (221). In Genesis, the root ʿbd (ʿābad, TWAT5 989; HALOT 773-774) is used to mean the cultivation: "Now no thorns of the field were yet in the earth, and no grain of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground" (Gn 2:5). Cain, who is a farmer, is defined ʿōbēd ʾădāmâ, that is "tiller of the ground" (4:2). These definitions are generic, and it seems we are not allowed to infer which kind of agricultural occupation was meant for them.

A whole lot of what we would call "technological advancement" is left unattended in Genesis, and I have tried to explicit some presuppositions in the entry "needle" of this hypertext. Being used to handle thin steel needles, we are bound to miss that in ancient times they belonged, together with pins (Marcus 1994 [31]), to the same department of iron ploughshares and could be used as a weapon. Moreover, according to the Hittite Laws, the plough itself was an implement for executions (§§ 166-167, Imparati 1964 [32]: 298), and it is noteworthy that in Genesis Adam and his first-born Cain are both farmers, ʿōbēd ʾădāmâ, and both bound to fail. Besides, the second farmer, Cain, will murder his brother, and no weapon is mentioned. Are we allowed to think it was a ploughshare? As in Hittite scholarship, the logogram LÚ(.MEš)APIN.LÁ has gradually assumed a more precise meaning and now is generally rendered with "ploughman" instead of "farmer" (e.g. Rüster & Wilhelm [33]), the bucolic network of interpretations about Genesis should be rewired accordingly.

Maybe with the help of two texts from Mari, which draw our attention to the close relationship between irrigation and ploughing: "The sky opened up and 'inundated' the fields, [and] I will sow" (Heimpel 2003 [34]: 412, text 27 2). "I shall dispatch the oxen and the cultivators to a place where there is inundated land, to Terqa or else to Hisamta. Let them seed there" (Heimpel 2003 [34]: 207, text 26 76). About the latter quote, the editor comments the following: "The most essential work of the plow teams was 'seeding,' which included the preparation of a field for seeding and the seeding itself by means of a funnel that was attached to the plow and allowed for insertion of the seed into the furrow at a steady rate." As for Adam and Cain's occupation according to the original divine blueprint, some further details may be gleaned through a simple comparison. What was considered important in the kingdom of Mari around the beginning of the second millennium B. C. is likely to have remained the same for ages, after all the annual flooding of the fields was already mentioned in the Sumerian Farmer's Instructions too (Civil 1994 [35]; Reculeau 2017 [36]).

Hoffner's words of caution (2001 [37]) against extending the known circumstances and the lexicon of Mesopotamian agriculture to the Hittite world should be taken seriously, but sticking to the most essential terms of the question seems enough to avoid a feeble comparativism. After distinguishing between a first type of ploughing necessary to break the hard ground and another ploughing during sowing, we have also to acknowledge the advancement represented by the seeder plough (Dercksen 2008 [38]: 145-146), and by the technique of sowing after "an initial irrigation to allow germination of the seeds – a natural barrier against the grain being eaten by birds and other pests" (Widell, M., et al. 2013 [39]: 87).

The need for irrigation before ploughing is expressed in Genesis 2:5 through the sequence "rain + man to till the ground" and is an almost explicit mention of a tool that appears between the lines at Cain's birth, in a few words open to different interpretations, though. Eve says she has "acquired a man" (4:1), and in this context אִישׁ (ʾiš) has the obvious sense of "male child", but her words may also mean that she adopted a man, Adam, and then אִישׁ, would stay for "husband" as in Gn 2:24. This passage comes to explicit what was just hinted at: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife". These words can be interpreted, within a supposed Anatolian milieu, as the expression of an antiyant- marriage. Both interpretations are compatible with the verb קָנִיתִי, from the stem קָנָה, qānā, that may also mean "create" and allow more than a metallurgic innuendo in a status constructus like "ʾet Yhwh," which can be read as "ploughshare of Yhwh" (אֶת־יְהוָֽה, ʾet Yhwh). If we keep reading the verb as "acquire", though, Eve's words would sound as follows: "I have acquired a husband, ploughshare of Yhwh". In ANE cultures, but also in the Greek world (Beall 2004 [40]: 28), "plough" and "husband" are almost interchangeable. This well-known simile inspired the words of Rib-Hadda, the mayor of Gubla (Byblos) in Amarna Letters (14th century B. C.): "My field, for lack of a ploughman, is like a woman without a husband" (EA 74, von Dassow & Greenwood 2006 [41]: 203).

I think that Eve's naming of Cain would fit within this pattern, a decisive move, in line with the new dignity afforded by the hazardous naming of Adam, which gave her a "Hittite" identity. As Hapantaliya is named "queen" in the Hittite sources, Eve behaves accordingly, and she adopts a husband that will transmit his status of kaina- to Cain, the first-born. In a way, Eve is letting the world know she is steering the plough wherever she likes. A role that would fully comply with the anti-Hittite prejudice attested in Genesis. In particular, "Hittite" women are considered reckless mothers and Eve's attitude is pointed out through a symbolical complex that now needs an explanation.

According to the words of the Hittite Storm God, addressed to Telipinu: "That son of mine is mighty: he breaks up the ground, plows, irrigates, (and) ... s grain" (Hoffner 1998 [42]: 28; Beckman), we are entitled to infer that the plough is both a sign of natural fertility and virility. The god Telepinu is well-known in Hittite mythology as the superintendent of the natural order, which becomes dysfunctional when he disappears (CTH 324.1-9), and it is not possible to keep the seed in cultivation separate from the seed of human generation in ANE (Wilcke 1987 [43]; Pringle 1993 [4]: 84-99).

Now, going back to my first quotation about the punishment of traitors by the king Telepinu, there is something more to construe from that yoke imposed on their shoulders: they were humiliated as plough oxen, according to a paradigm of power in which the king is viewed as the Storm God riding a chariot or as a ploughman using the pole to steer the plough. I would not exclude from the repertory of the possible paronomasias around the Hebrew ʾišša ("woman"), the Hittite ḫišša- "carriage pole" (Katz 1983 [44]; EDHIL 346) or išḫawar- "yoke plough-set(?)" (EDHIL 220, 392). They would consolidate the climax featured in the first chapters of Genesis up to the tragedy of a kaina- killing his brother.

When Eve mentions ʾet (HALOT 101), daring to associate the ploughshare to Yhwh, we may comment that there is nothing new under the sun because Adam was already meant to be ʿōbēd ʾădāmâ, a "tiller of the ground" as later Cain (4:2). After the Fall and even worse after Abel's murder, the ground became unproductive, and Eve's utterance might suggest a technological advancement due to the introduction of iron in human life. The choice of ʾet, this special term that remains partly undefined, leads toward the interface between agriculture and war because it is part of a saying that is proverbial in the Bible: "And they shall grind their swords into plowshares" (Is 2:4; Mic 4:3) or the grim reverse: "Grind your ploughshares into swords" (Joel 4:10). The close relationship of this implement with iron: "ein eisernes schneidendes Werkzeug des Ackerbaues" (Gesenius 1959 [45]: 77); "cutting instrument of iron, usually transl. ploughshare" (Gesenius, et al. 1974: 88); "blade" (Clines 1993 [46]: 453) is interesting, considered the crescendo of the human confrontation with God, that makes the conditions to harvest harder and harder.

It seems that Eve is starting a challenge naming Cain, because she introduces a term, namely אֵת (ʾet), which is interchangeable with "sword": the earth is cursed by God, it has become difficult for man to obtain a crop, but not impossible. Cain represents iron, as suggested; apparently, the metal tip of the plough is the solution to the problem, yet the divine curse can turn the earth into iron, thus preventing its cultivation: "And your heavens that are over your head will be bronze and the earth that is under you iron" (Dt 28:23, Weinfeld 1992 [47]: 117). As Alter rightly remarks: "This tremendous image of devastating sterility is borrowed from the treaty of the Assyrian emperor Assarhadon with his vassals (672 B.C.E.)." "May Shamash plow up your cities and districts with an iron plow" (Pritchard 2016 [48]: 539). Because of Abel's murder, the punishment will be tougher: "When you work the soil, it will no longer give you its products" (Gn 4:12). If the introduction of the iron ploughshare represents a momentary remedy to the lost natural fertility of the earth (Potts 1997 [49]: 70-80), Cain's sin attracts an insurmountable difficulty to man; it is iron versus iron, an obstacle that not even human ingenuity can scratch.

However, the image of Cain as a plough, at the same time farmer and warrior, would not be entirely understandable without a remote paradigm, still alive in the Middle Eastern imagination, even in Palestine, around the middle of the 6th century B. C. (Guillaume 2006 [50]: 193ff.). It is the god Ninurta, son of Enlil, an ambivalent figure, indomitable warrior, and farmer at the same time (Westenholz 1999 [51]; Annus 2002 [52]: 152-156; Pace 2018 [53]), who with Cain shares his most important symbol, namely the plough.

To this picture of Eve's designation I have tried to figure out so far, I would add a summary: the progenitors are naked because they are farmers busy with menial duties such as ploughing, which is undertaken in the nude mainly for two symbolical reasons: one is the unarmed condition, i.e. the fieldworker is not a warrior; the second is farmer's lifestyle, a family life, responsive both to land and wife's needs. The Hurro-Hittite story of the hunter Kessi (Xella 1978 [54]) teaches something about it: he started getting in trouble because he "listened only to his wife" ("Kesse aber hörte nur auf seine Ehefrau", Haas 2005 [55]: 369; "He only had ears for his wife", Hoffner 1998 [42]: 88), he gave up hunting to cleave to his wife as Adam (Gn 2:24), who sinned because he listened to Eve's voice (Gn 3:17).

Adam was a farmer, not a hunter, as later Esau, who married "Hittite" women. To comply with God's will, Adam should have stayed a farmer, that is nude (=unarmed), busy with the "plough works". Genesis is clear-cut about hunting (Lipiński 1966 [56]; Van der Kooij 2012 [57]) and about the "Hittite" frame of mind, which glorifies the king as a mighty hunter. Cain and the Cainites move toward a "Hittite" pattern of life; in a way, it is under the impulse of an Anatolian mother ("of all living", Eve=Hapantaliya) that a ploughshare is forged into a sword. The Mesopotamian watermark – always latent in the Hittite literature – comes to the foreground with Nimrod (Gn 10:9), a mighty hunter who should correspond to Ninurta for some scholars (van der Toorn & van der Horst 1990 [58]; Levin 2002 [59]; Petrovich 2013 [60]).

I have suggested that the two farmers taken to the garden in Eden wanted to become "sons of God", that is, to acquire a princely dignity, to be warriors and the sword, the weapon held by the cherubim (Gn 3:24), is also the hunter's weapon par excellence in the cycle of patriarchs, which seems to be well aware of Kessi's myth. Esau, the Wild Man (Mobley 1997 [61]), "skilled in hunting, a man of the field" is opposed to Jacob, "a simple man, a dweller in tents" (Gn 25:27). Kessi's leitmotif becomes explicit when we hear that Esau's parents have opposite tastes about his lifestyle: "And Isaac loved Esau for the game that he brought him, but Rebekah loved Jacob" (Gn 25:28). To the first-born defrauded of his right, his father Jacob foretells a fate of violence: "By your sword shall you live and your brother shall you serve" (Gn 27:40).

Originally Published: July 5, 2021

Last Updated: July 20, 2021

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