2. The Heroic Battle Narrative in the Ancient Near East

The heroic battle narrative tells the story of a hero commissioned by a helpless leader to fight an enemy champion in single-combat. The foundation for this study was laid by Heda Jason, drawing on the work of A. Skaftymov[1] and also the model of V. Propp’s for the heroic fairy tale.[2] With Skaftymov’s episodes as a basis, the plot can be summarized as follows:

Beginning: Tension

  • A description of the hero and his impediment
  • The enemy threatens “our” side
  • “Our” side reacts with fear.

Middle: Development

  • The enemy threat increases.
  • “Our” side calls and commissions the hero.

End: Resolution

  • The hero defeats the enemy hero in single-handed combat.
  • The enemy army reacts with fear and flees.
  • “Our” side pursues and destroys the enemy.
  • “Our” side takes its plunder.
  • “Our” side recognizes the hero.

In addition to the traditional battle story, Jason cites several modern examples: “the detective story, television plays, wild west movies.” Each would have its own conventions but would fit nonetheless under this larger umbrella. Joseph Campbell’s famous book A Hero with a Thousand Faces likewise points to the pervasive use of this generic plot which he sees as a monomyth with many manifestations.[3] His emphasis on similarity and disregard for differences distorts the relationships. Without denying the common elements of the genre, I want to argue that we must respect the differences of each version. The generic allows us to discover and appreciate the uniqueness of each narrative.

The tradition then is not represented fully by any one story. Therefore, to discover the generic pattern in the ancient Near East, I want to look at six important battle narratives to explore how they use and expand upon the basic scenes outlined above.

2.1. Six Heroic Battle Narratives from the ancient Near East and Homer

2.1.1. Marduk and Tiamat in the Enūma eliš = Ee[4]

The Enūma eliš, the creation story of ancient Mesopotamia, begins with the first father, Apsu (freshwater), and the first mother, Tiamat (saltwater), giving birth to the first generation of deities. These young deities disturb Apsu, who decides to kill them, but Ea, son of Anshar and one of the good gods, kills Apsu, causing Tiamat to fly into an emotional rage. She gives the Tablet of Destinies to Qingu, one of the bad gods, and looks to kill the good gods. After failed attempts to find a hero, Anshar asks the young Marduk, son of Ea, to fight Tiamat. He agrees on the condition that they make him king before the battle, which they do. Marduk then meets Tiamat in single-combat and shoots an arrow into her belly and heart—the internal organs representing her emotions. Splitting her in two, he creates heaven and earth, and from the blood of Qingu makes humanity. The story ends with the fifty names of Marduk which show him holding together both reason and emotion.

2.1.2. Ninurta fights Anzu in the Anzu Myth[5]

The bird-like Anzu steals the Tablet of Destinies from Anu and flees disrupting the kingship and its ability to order all things. Anu calls three deities to be the hero, but each refuses. Ea asks the goddess Mami to send her son Ninurta. She agrees and commissions him. After mustering an army, he meets Anzu. Though the battle initially does not go well, Ea sends counsel, and Ninurta shoots an arrow into Anzu’s heart. When the wind brings Anzu’s feather, the gods realize what has happened and send a messenger to recognize the victory and bestow some fifteen names upon him, including “Bel” or “lord” in the later version.

2.1.3. Gilgamesh and Ḫumbaba in the Gilgamesh Epic = Gilg.

The Gilgamesh Epic began as a series of stories during the earlier Sumerian culture and was handed on in the Akkadian language, particularly in an Old Babylonian form from the eighteenth century and a later standard version attributed to Sîn-liqe-unnini in the late second millennium. Andrew George provides a translation and lucid introduction to the various manuscripts which make up this evolving corpus. This study will follow his presentations.[6] Because of the epic’s fragmentary condition, the whole must be constructed by adding to the standard version tablets with the Old Babylonian version (OB), especially the Yale (Y) and Pennsylvania (P) tablets. The standard version is indicated by tablet in Roman numerals followed by lines.

The standard version opens with a description of the young Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, who divides himself between contests with the young men and chasing the young women. To counteract this, the goddess Aruru creates a wild, primitive man, Enkidu, who will become the heroic friend. He is civilized by his sexual encounter with the woman Shamhat who tells him of the hero. Enkidu, now the equal of Gilgamesh, goes to fight him, and their wrestling match makes them fast friends.

To win glory, Gilgamesh proposes that they go and take trees from the forest of Ḫumbaba, whose “breath is death” (Y 111). Enkidu objects because of Ḫumbaba’s invincibility, but Gilgamesh persists because only the deities are immortal; therefore, he disdains death” If I should fall, let me make my name” (Y149). After forging weapons, Gilgamesh asks permission of the elders of Uruk. Enkidu again objects, and the elders counsel him: “You are young, borne along by emotion, / all that you talk of you don’t understand” (II 289-290), but Gilgamesh persists. The elders counsel him, “Do not rely, O Gilgamesh, on your own strength alone” (III 2) and then entrust him to Enkidu. The hero then applies to his mother, who prays to Shamash to protect her son; she then adopts Enkidu and entrusts her son to him. Then the young men of Uruk offer a final commission; again, they bid Gilgamesh not to trust in his “own strength alone” (III 216). After entrusting the hero to Enkidu, they offer a final blessing “Go, Gilgamesh, let ……. / May your god go [before you!] / May [Shamash] let you attain [your goal!]” (Y 284-286).

After a long journey and several favorable dreams, they arrive at Ḫumbaba’ forest (IV). Though Tablet IV is fragmentary at this point, Enkidu encourages the hero. Shamash then both encourages him and tells him not to let Ḫumbaba enter his forest. The tablet ends with Gilgamesh encouraging his friend: “Take my hand, friend, and we shall go [on] together, / let your thoughts dwell on combat! / Forget death and [seek] life (IV 253-255)!

The hero meets with Ḫumbaba, who accuses Enkidu of treachery and, with false confidence, tells the hero that he will slit his throat. Gilgamesh finally feels his fear, but Enkidu encourages him. The sun god Shamash also comes to the hero’s aid with thirteen winds to immobilize Ḫumbaba so that Gilgamesh’s weapons can reach the enemy. Ḫumbaba then pleads for his life, but Enkidu tells him to press on and kill the enemy. Ḫumbaba then curses both with the wish that they do not reach old age. Gilgamesh then strikes the neck of Ḫumbaba and kills him. The heroic pair takes trees from the forest as spoils.

On his return, the goddess Ishtar desires Gilgamesh, but he rejects her. After the heroic pair kill the Bull of Heaven, the spurned Ishtar stirs up the assembly of deities against them, and they demand the life of one as recompense. So the heroic friend Enkidu dies, leaving Gilgamesh alone. His earlier desire for fame now becomes a desire for immortality which takes him on a long journey to Utnapishtim, who survived the great flood, like Noah. Unlike the biblical figure, he receives eternal life as a reward. After a test, Utnapishtim gives Gilgamesh a miraculous plant that will keep him young, but a snake steals it on the return journey, and so he must die like all mortals.

2.1.4. Baal and Yamm[7]

During a banquet held by El, the weak and old head of the Canaanite pantheon, the god Yamm, whose name means “sea,” demands that Baal, whose name means “lord,” become his vassal. The impotent El acquiesces, but Baal refuses. Unlike the other narratives in which the weak leader commissions the hero, El commissions the “enemy champion” who claims the kingship. When the text becomes clear again, Baal and Yamm are engaged in single combat with Baal on the verge of defeat, but the blacksmith deity fashions two clubs for him. With them, Baal triumphs over Yamm, who represents the chaotic waters. Athtart  recognizes his victory and announces that “Baal shall be king.”

2.1.5. Sinuhe and the Strong Man of Retenu in Sinuhe[8]

The Story of Sinuhe is a masterpiece of Middle Egyptian literature.[9] Unlike the other stories told by omniscient storytellers who know all and present themselves as authoritative and reliable narrators, Sinuhe tells his own story creating a more mimetic text and establishing a more intimate bond with the reader.

Sinuhe begins telling his story at the accession of Sesostris I to the throne in 1961 B.C. For some reason, he flees at the news of the new king, and his flight makes him seem a rebel. He continues his journey into Lebanon, eventually settling in Upper Retenu, a part of Palestine and Syria. There he becomes part of the king’s court and marries the eldest daughter, and takes his place as a “chief of a tribe of the finest in his land.”

After some years, “a strong man of Retenu…without equal” challenges Sinuhe in order to take his wealth. Sinuhe meets the challenger and shoots him in the neck with an arrow. As a result, Sinuhe takes the strong man’s possession as spoils and is renowned in the capital. Even so, Sinuhe is unhappy because he is an exile from Egypt. A report of his situation reaches the pharaoh, who issues a decree for his return. Though torn by his loyalty to the king of Retenu, Sinuhe hands over his property to his children and returns to Egypt.

2.1.6. Achilles and Hector in the Iliad[10]

Homer opens the Iliad by singing of the anger of Achilles. The hero is angry because Agamemnon has made him hand over the woman Briseis. Achilles had taken her in a raid with the idea of giving her to his friend Patroclus. The war against Troy began with Paris taking Helen from another man, and now Agamemnon has done the same to Achilles. With this, Homer throws into question the moral basis for this war. In anger, Achilles has withdrawn from the battle. He knows that he can return home and have a happy but hidden life with a wife and family, or he can stay and fight. The battle will bring him enduring glory, but he will also lose his life. Because of this offense and with nothing worthwhile to die for, Achilles has sworn not to fight. As a result, Hector, the Trojan hero, is able to rally his countrymen and threaten the Greek ships with fire. Though Achilles refuses to join the battle, his friend Patroclus returns to the fight in Achilles’ armor. Though warned, Hector kills Patroclus, and Achilles, now with something worth fighting for, returns to avenge his friend. The Greek and Trojan heroes meet in single combat. Achilles kills Hector, the paragon of civil and familial virtue. Even so, his anger is not assuaged. He drags the body around the city of Troy and refuses to return the body for burial. Finally, the last book tells how Hermes casts a great sleep over all the forces and leads Priam, king, and father, through the lines to beg for the body of his son. Though Achilles’ anger still rages, he sees in Priam his own father, who will one day weep of him. With this insight, he saves his humanity and returns the body of Hector to Priam, bringing the epic to an end.

2.2. Characters

The central character is, of course, the hero who defeats the enemy and rescues the helpless people and the helpless leader(s) of “our” side. The helpless leader, unable to meet the enemy threat himself, may first call and commission false heroes who either refuse the commission or cannot carry it out. The helpless leader, perhaps with the help of counselors, calls and commissions the hero; the hero’s parent may also play some role in this. Likewise, the parent and/or the leader often help the hero prepare for battle. The hero’s friend may also fulfill the role of helper and assist in the battle along with the hero’s army.[11] In the stories with human heroes, deities may assume the roles of divine leader, divine parent, and divine friend.

The enemy side consists basically of the enemy leader, the enemy champion, and the enemy army; the roles of leader and champion may be combined in the enemy king.

2.3. The Beginning: The Description of the Hero, the Threat, and Helplessness

The story may open with a description of the hero, as does the Anzu Myth, which begins with a celebration of its hero, Ninurta.[12] Marduk, the hero of the Enūma eliš, makes his appearance in a traditional birth episode at the end of the first story in which Ea slays Apsu.[13] The birth makes Marduk the youngest of the gods, and this fact serves in the story as the hero’s impediment, that is, the reason which keeps the hero from undertaking the fight immediately. Because of Marduk’s youth, the gods do not immediately think of him as the hero. In other stories, the hero’s impediment may be as simple as his absence from the place of encounter or as complex as Achilles’ anger, announced in the epic’s opening line. In the Gilgamesh Epic, the hero’s disdain for death reveals his lack of maturity, but here the flaw spurs the hero to seek out the battle with Ḫumbaba.[14] Sinuhe, in a momentary act of cowardice, fled from Egypt during the accession of Sesostris I (B 1‑45); this act of cowardice colors his whole story. However developed, the motif serves to increase the dramatic tension while developing significant themes in the narrative.

The tension of the story arises with the enemy’s threat and display of great power. The threat may take the form of “attack,” but in general, the motif unfolds in such a way that the threat, though imminent, remains only a threat so that “our” side has time to react. The siege of a city or the enemy’s encampment provides a simple solution; likewise, the appearance of a messenger with outrageous demands, a challenge to fight, or the timely discovery of the enemy’s plan may serve the purpose.[15]

The enemy’s power is always overwhelming whether in quantity, quality or both. The greater the power is the greater the fall, and, therefore, the greater the hero who achieves the victory. Finally, the enemy must have a motive, even a bad motive, for taking such drastic actions—the more complex the motive, the greater its importance for the central themes of a specific story. Traditionally the enemy represents the antithesis of order, the threat of chaos, but the storyteller may explore this theme in many ways. The enemy champion embodies this theme as the concrete expression of the foreboding chaos, as opposed to the hero who represents the summary expression of the ideals of “our” side.[16]

After presenting the enemy threat and prowess, the reaction of helplessness by “our” side follows and provides the rationale for the middle section of the story with its commission of the hero. While fear is a common expression of helplessness, other imagery, such as weeping, drooping heads, retreat, or the like, may convey the sense of powerlessness.[17] In the Enūma eliš and the Anzu Myth, silence serves as the motif of helplessness in contrast with the enemy’s power of speech derived from the possession of the Tablets of Destiny.[18] While underlining the need for a hero, helplessness also has negative implications for the leadership of “our” side. It may foreshadow a change of leadership with the hero becoming the leader. Finally, both the motifs of the enemy’s threat and the reaction of helplessness renew and heighten the tension.[19]

To summarize, the opening section may introduce the hero with the reason why he cannot undertake the fight immediately. In any case, the opening presents the story’s central tension: the enemy’s threat and great power and the reaction of helplessness by “our” side further

2.4. The Middle: The Call and Commission of the Hero

While typically raising the threat and reaction of fear, the middle section puts into place the means for resolving the tension. Basically, “our” side must find, recognize and commission a hero to meet the enemy. Since the traditional audience knows that the hero will arrive and resolve the threat, the storyteller must create obstacles to retard the story and increase both the tension and the interest. Often “our” side does not recognize the hero initially, and the hero’s impediment may block the possibility of taking up the fight immediately.

The call and commission may consist of a simple request and acceptance, but the storyteller has several possible avenues, which I have divided into four parts.

    1. general call for a hero;
    2. call and commission of false heroes;
    3. call and commission of the hero;
    4. preparation for battle.

In the stories of human heroes, a divine commission may be added, i.e., the commission of a human hero by a deity.

2.4.1. General call

If the hero is unknown or at least not apparent to the leader (s), the middle section may open with the council of leaders and a general call followed by the offer of a reward. In the Anzu Myth, the motifs of threat and helplessness bring about a council of the gods where Anu asks:

[A]nu made ready to speak
Saying to the gods his children:

general call:        “[Which] one would slay Anzu?

reward:                He shall make for himself the greatest name in [eve]ry habitation.[20]

The general call designates no specific person but calls for volunteers or suggestions. The story of Jephthah provides a parallel; there, the elders of Gilead ask:

general call:        “Who will begin the fight against the Ammonites?

reward:                He shall be head over all the inhabi­tants of Gilead” (Judg 10:18).

The general call is a stock motif used to open a scene of commission for non-warriors as well. In 1 Kgs 22: 20 the general call is found without the offer of a reward: “The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead’”; so also in Isa 6:8. The hero’s reward, of course, is a traditional motif and need not be tied to the general call. As found in the Anzu Myth and Judg 10:18, the two most common rewards are a great name and leadership, or more specifically, kingship.

2.4.2         Call, commission, and failure of the false heroes

The call and commission of the false heroes follow the same patterns used for the hero, but they either refuse the commission or fail in the attempt.[21] Though good and worthy warriors, the false heroes reveal by their failure the extraordinary qualities that the hero must possess. More pragmatically, their failure removes any of the hero’s potential rivals, an important point in the Enūma eliš where the hero emerges as the head of the pantheon. Finally, the episode carries the fortunes of “our” side still lower and ends with a returning motif of helplessness.

2.4.3. The call and commission of the hero

Biblical scholars have widely discussed episodes of call and commission under the title of “call narrative.”[22] With the exception of the warrior Gideon, the studies have concentrated upon material related to prophets in which an objection is raised to the call and commission by the Lord. The narrow focus of biblical scholarship has caused it to overlook the wider application of the form. The four patterns below apply equally to prophets, warrior-heroes, servants, messengers—in short, to anyone commissioned to carry out a specific task. Even so, I shall cast my terminology in terms of the battle narrative, i.e., hero and leader.

In this study, the call refers to the element of request, and it may be initiated either by the leader or the hero; i.e., the leader may call the hero to receive the commission, or the hero may call for the commission from the leader. The commission, as N. Habel defines it, “is regularly couched in terms of a direct personal imperative which embraces the essential goal of the assigned task.”[23] The central call and commission in the heroic tradition take place between the hero and the leader of “our” side, the latter usually being a helpless leader. Others, especially by the hero’s parent or a divine leader, may take this role. The type of leader has ramifications for the commission’s content, which I shall take up shortly. There are four logical patterns.

  1. The leader calls and commissions the hero,
    and the hero accepts.[24]
  2. The hero calls for the commission,
    and the leader commissions him.[25]

These two patterns differ only in the person taking the initiative. Neither holds much dramatic tension; thus, an objection or, less dramatically, a question may be raised by one and answered by the other. This further complication yields two derivative patterns:

  1. The leader calls and commissions the hero;
    the hero raises an objection or question;
    the leader answers this;
    and the hero accepts.
  2. The hero calls for the commission;
    the leader raises an objection or question;
    the hero answers this;
    and the leader commissions the hero.

The third pattern corresponds to what biblical scholars have termed the “call narrative.” A further example is found in the Iliad, which contains both question and objection (XVIII 170-216). Iris commands Achilles to rouse himself and help recover the body of the dead Patroclus (call and commission). Achilles questions the source of this commission, and Iris answers that Hera has sent her. Achilles then objects that he cannot carry out the commission because he has promised his mother Thetis not to enter the battle until she has brought new armor. Iris answers the objection by telling the hero that he need only mount the battlement, and with that, Achilles accepts and rouses himself. The pattern also appears in the commission of Jephthah (Judg 11:7-8) and of the false heroes in the Anzu Myth, where the leader withdraws the call from each false hero after he objects.[26] In the Iliad, the leaders call, commission, and beg Achilles to fight, but because of his anger, he refuses.

In the fourth pattern, the hero’s initiative is paramount. The leader’s circumspection affords the hero a second speech in which he can reveal with greater resolve his determination to fight. The leader’s objection deserves close attention, for it typically touches the hero’s impediment and, therefore, a central theme. Such is the case in the Gilgamesh Epic, where the elders of Uruk object twice that the hero’s youthful heart “is bourne along by emotion.”[27]

In addition to the call and commission, other traditional motifs appear in the speeches of these scenes. The leader may accompany his call with an appeal to duty[28] and then add counsel, especially in the form of a battle plan.[29] If the leader is human, he may invoke a blessing and call for divine presence and aid.[30] In the case of divine commission, the content of the blessing becomes a statement, an assurance of divine presence and aid, as in the phrase, “I am with you.”[31] Commonly added to this is some form of encouragement, expressed most often by the phrase, “Do not fear.” This particular phrase has been studied especially by P.E. Dion, who argues that the phrase is not necessarily part of an oracle or limited to divine characters.[32] While I concur, it is mainly a deity who can offer the assurance necessary to make the encouragement meaningful. The encouragement motif, however, is not limited to the negative “Do not fear” but may be expressed positively as in the scene where Apollo commissions the disheartened Hector to re-enter the battle (Iliad XV254-261); the whole speech is a fine example of the divine call and commission:

“Take courage,”

“a helper hath the son of Cronos sent … to stand by thy side and succor them, even me, Phoebus Apollo.”

call & commission:
“But come now, bid thy many charioteers drive against the hollow ships their swift horses.”

“and I will go before and make smooth all the way for the chariots, and will turn in flight the Achaean warriors.”

The hero’s initiative in these scenes is typically triggered by his reaction of righteous indignation when informed of the enemy’s threat. This anger contrasts with the reaction of helplessness by the others. The righteous indignation may carry into his call for the commission or color his response to the leader’s call.[33] Where the hero seizes the initiative, his call for the commission is more often an assertion that he will fight; still, he cannot do this without the leader’s official consent. In his call for the commission, the hero may also take over the encouragement motif and bid the helpless not to fear.[34]

2.4.4. Preparation for battle: the arming of the hero and muster of the army

Once the hero has received and accepted the commission to fight the enemy, the preparation for battle follows with the hero arming himself and mustering the army. The hero’s weapons and armor, perhaps made especially for the occasion, reflect his greatness. Achilles’ shield is the most famous example, but the clubs that Kothar makes for Baal become the focus for that story.[35] Others, such as a leader, parent, or friend, may assist him.[36] Sinuhe, for instance, spends the night preparing his bow, sharpening his dagger and polishing his weapons.[37]

The army may be considered a collective hero. If necessary, it is mustered with as its own call and commission.[38] The mounting of the chariot, drawn perhaps by named horses, leads to the transition from “our” camp to the place of battle.[39]

2.4.5. Journey

Though often abbreviated here, the journey can be a major scene where the distance is great, as in the story of Gilgamesh.,[40] Along with the battle pattern, the journey can serve as a basic plot, as in the Odyssey.[41] It confronts the hero with situations beyond the normal world of sedentary life (as if Penelope did not have her own problems). Like the battle narrative, the journey may become a complex narrative embracing the whole of traditional literature with episodes of hardship and hospitality, hostility and victory, and more. The journey may even take the hero into the fantastic world of the dream or the unknown world of death. Thus the journey may travel the length of human experience to try the hero’s physical prowess, intellectual acumen, and moral strength.

As a compendium of human experience, the great journeys are symbols of passage: from youth to maturity (Telemachus), ignorance to wisdom and realism (Gilgamesh), alienation to reconciliation (Sinuhe), chaos to order (Aeneas), temptation and trial to victory (Odysseus), bondage to promise (the Exodus), punishment to forgiveness (the Exile and Return of Judah). The complexities of these classic journeys carry more than the basic themes outlined above. Still, these journeys attempt to reverse the most fundamental human transition: the movement from life to death. Each story solves this fundamental human problem differently. For Gilgamesh, the triumph comes in the acceptance of mortality as his lot. For Sinuhe, the reconciliation with the pharaoh brings the return to Egypt to prepare a tomb for the voyage of death. Aeneas carries the penates from the defeated Troy to The Eternal City, Rome. As Northrop Frye points out, the fundamental biblical journey begins with the expulsion from the Garden, which brings death. Abraham makes a journey to the promised land; his progeny journey to Egypt and return in the Exodus and later to Babylon and back. The New Testament tells of the journey to Jerusalem and then to Rome with the final journey ending with the New Jerusalem where “death will be no more” (Rev 21:4).[42]

2.4.6. Variations on a single motif or pattern

To summarize: This section’s major motifs are the call and commission, which the storyteller may unfold in many ways. The story may open with a general call for a hero. False heroes may then be called and commissioned only to fail. The hero’s call and commission by the leader of “our” side may be preceded or followed by a similar scene with the hero’s parent.[43] Where the hero is human, he typically calls for a divine commission from his deity.[44] Motifs of threat and helplessness from the opening section may appear even several times to raise the tension. The preparation for battle likewise may be divided into several scenes. These motifs, therefore, form interchangeable parts which can join together and form many configurations depending upon character, theme, and the storyteller’s genius.

In the Enūma eliš, the initial reactions of helplessness give way to the call and commission of Ea and Anu. The failure of these false heroes provokes a renewed reaction of helplessness which this story characterizes, especially by sitting still and silent (II 53-87). The lesser deities join the triumvirate to form a new council in which Ea breaks the silence and names Marduk as the hero (II 88-95). The hero’s father then calls, exhorts, and commissions Marduk to present himself to the leader Anshar (II 96-102). In the scene with the leader, Marduk seizes the initiative; he encourages the leader not to be “muted” and calls for the commission which Anshar grants (Ee 139). Marduk then demands a reward of kingship before the battle has even begun. The hero’s initiative concerning the reward demonstrates his total command of the situation. Anshar accepts this demand happily and convokes a larger council using a traditional messenger episode.[45] The messenger reports the enemy’s threat, bringing a further reaction of helplessness (III 1-128). The new council takes place within the context of a banquet, another traditional episode.[46] After the gods make Marduk king, they renew the commission and prepare him for battle with a gift of “matchless weapons” (III 129 – IV 34). The hero then prepares for battle himself: he constructs a bow and net and then gathers meteorological forces, treated ambiguously as weapons and army. Finally, “wrapped in an armor of terror,” Marduk mounts his chariot, drawn by named winds, while the other deities remain worried and helpless until the end (IV 35-62).

The Enūma eliš adds an important twist with the hero demanding the reward of kingship before the battle. Even so, the storyteller builds these scenes from traditional motifs and patterns. The same is true of the other stories. Even the lengthy middle section of the Iliad (XVI-XIX) deals with a false hero, calls and commissions, preparation for battle, mixed with other traditional elements such as the reconciliation of hero and leader[47] as well as the lament over a dead hero.[48] Whatever the obstacles or complications, the hero emerges in the end with a commission confirmed by the whole society, represented by the leader.

2.5. The Resolution: Victory, Plunder, and Recognition

The story’s major tension resolves with the hero’s victory over the enemy champion, which allows “our” side to defeat and destroy the enemy army. The taking of plunder leads to the recognition of the hero, which rounds out the story and brings it to a close.

2.5.1. Single-combat

The single combat consists of the following traditional elements:

  • the meeting of the warriors;
  • the verbal exchange between the two warriors:
  • the enemy’s false confidence;
  • the enemy’s insults;
  • the hero’s indictment of the foe and enemy.
  • the hero’s initial failure
  • help from other helpers
  • the enemy’s failure
  • the hero’s mortal blow with a missile
  • the enemy’s fall to the ground
  • the hero’s triumphal stance over the body
  • the mutilation of the corpse with a hand weapon

The meeting of the warriors may include motifs from the earlier section, such as the description of the enemy’s great power. The verbal exchange typically contains major themes, found especially the hero’s indictment of the enemy.[49] The enemy’s speech with its insults raises the audience’s contempt and manifests the enemy’s moral emptiness.[50] The introduction of the enemy’s false confidence, a motif also found elsewhere, adds dramatic irony to the story.[51] The hero’s initial failure creates a new tension and retards the climax.[52] Furthermore, it shows his dependence upon outside help and brings a return to motifs of the middle section: new strategies for battle, new weapons, and perhaps new assurances or encouragement.[53] The enemy’s failure likewise retards the climax.[54] Beyond this functional dimension, both motifs of failure may have thematic implications for our understanding of the story.

The hero’s mortal blow to the enemy comes from some sort of missile: spear, arrow, stone, flying club. [55] The enemy then falls to the ground,[56] and the hero takes a triumphal stance over the body to represent the outcome visually. [57] Finally, the mutilation of the corpse with a hand weapon provides a final symbolic gesture illustrating the complete destruction of the enemy champion. [58]

2.5.2. The defeat of the enemy army

After the defeat of the enemy hero, “our” side recognizes the hero’s victory and completes it by defeating the enemy army. With this, the opening motifs of the story are reversed. “Our” side now poses the threat, and the enemy reacts with helplessness. The section unfolds as follows:

  • enemy’s recognition of defeat:
    • the enemy’s reaction of helplessness;
    • the enemy’s flight.
  • recognition of victory by “our” side:
    • a shout[59]
    • the pursuit of the enemy
    • the great or total destruction of the enemy.

The scene is a stable feature of the royal battle narratives,[60] but in these six stories of single-combat, the enemy army appears only in the Enūma eliš and the Iliad. Homer tells the destruction of Troy only in the Odyssey. In the Enūma eliš, Marduk himself defeats Tiamat’s army and takes the Tablet of Destinies from Qingu.[61]

2.5.3. Plunder

Once the victory has been carried through, the plunder of the enemy takes place, for the spoils of war are also the trophies of victory. The hero typically receives a choice portion of the plunder, especially the slain’s weapons and armor.[62]

2.5.4. Recognition and reward of the hero

There follows the recognition of the hero by the leader and then by others, including the               • announcement of the defeat to “our” side.

  • the reaction of joy and celebration
  • recognition of the hero with reward and renown (name)
  • victory hymn

If the main body of “our” side is distant from the battle, someone must bring the news, as in the Myth of Anzu.[63]

Recognition may take the form of gestures and speeches that promise imperishable renown and the great name. Kingship is the great reward for the hero, and it typically comes with other motifs: royal insignia, dynasty (wife and progeny), kingdom, a dwelling (temple or palace) in the capital (city or mountain) of the kingdom. The hero, who does not become king, still receives rewards, especially some part of the plunder symbolic of the battle. Finally, the human hero may recognize the role played by his deity in the victory, as in Sinuhe,[64] a motif more common in the royal battle narratives treated in the next chapter.

Victory brings renown, yet the goal is not the fleeting fame of the moment but enduring renown. As Gregory Nagy argues, imperishable renown and glory, κλέος—kleos in Greek, serves as a primary motivating force in the Iliad; however, the pursuit of glory and immortality is inextricably bound up with death.[65] Patroclus dies in the pursuit of glory (XVI 87-90), and Achilles knows in a revelation from his mother that if he fights, he will die young, but his “kleos shall be imperishable” (IX 410-416). When Odysseus meets the dead Achilles in Hades, he confirms the validity of the dead hero’s choice: “Thus not even in death have you lost your name, but ever shall you have fair kleos among all men, Achilles” (Od. XXIV 93-94).

Noteworthy in Odysseus’ statement is the parallel between kleos/“glory and the “name,” for, in the ancient Near East, the theme of renown is often expressed by the motif of the name, especially as the greatest or an everlasting/enduring name. [66] Significantly, the Enūma eliš ends with the fifty names of Marduk, which describe his exalted power and responsibilities (VI 99 – VII 144). Likewise, the Myth of Anzu ends with the names of Ninurta.[67] In one of the earliest references from Mesopotamia, a hymn for Šulgi, a Sumerian king, names him as “hero, lord, mighty one of the foreign lands, the ‘champion’ of Sumer,”: “Like Anshar, may your name be placed in the ‘mouths’ of all the lands!”[68] The tradition endures in 1 Macc 6:44, where Eleazar “gave up his life to save his people and to win for himself an everlasting name.”[69] Likewise, before her battle, Judith proclaims that her victory “will go down through all generations of our descendants” (Jdt 8:32). By winning this name, the hero is able to establish for himself or herself a kind of immortality, sometimes symbolized also by the raising of a stele as a permanent monument.[70]

The multiplication of names in the Enūma eliš and the Myth of Anzu, therefore, forms a fitting close to the epic and serves as a victory hymn. The response of Athtart to Baal’s victory over Yamm has a similar function.[71] The victory hymn proper appears in Exodus 15, Judges 5 and Judith 16:1-17 to celebrate the battle, the hero, and, where appropriate, the hero’s kingship. Motifs are drawn from the battle narrative expand the hymn but not necessarily in a narrative sequence since the audience knows or knew the story. Again, every extant story of a victorious hero is a celebration of the hero’s glory and fame and so of the hero’s “name.” Where the story remains extant, the hero’s glorious name remains imperishable.

2.6. Conclusion

While the battle narrative may provide the framework for the whole story as in the Anzu Myth, the pattern may be repeated to form a larger story or joined with other motifs and patterns. In the Enūma eliš, the fight between Marduk and Tiamat is preceded by a theogony and the first battle between Ea and Apsu; after the primary battle, the scene of recognition alternates with a cosmogony. The whole of the Iliad presents a constant return of battle motifs and patterns. Still, in both stories, the single-combat stands at the heart of the story. In the Gilgamesh Epic and Sinuhe, the battle narrative combines with other traditional elements and patterns. The fight against Ḫumbaba belongs to Gilgamesh’s youthful adventures before the reality of death confronts the hero; the battle ironically underlines the hero’s immature understanding of death. This epic ends not with a battle but with a journey in search of immortal life. In Sinuhe, the fight forces the hero who once fled to “decide once more whether to flee or to stay and confront his personal difficulty.”[72] As such, the battle marks the transition from alienation to reconciliation, and the battle plays a vital role in this transition as a demonstration of the hero’s courage, as opposed to his youthful cowardice, which brought about his exile.

The larger context must be considered in assessing the significance of these stories as well as the internal factors: narrative world, characterization, particular thematic concerns. All of these factors contribute to the unique shape of each story. In short, there is a reciprocal relationship between form and content. Often this relationship is traditional, but the tradition does not account for everything, especially where the storyteller is of Homer’s caliber. Homer creates new horizons for the tradition, especially in his treatment of Hector. The Enūma eliš offers a basic example of the tradition, for there the lines between good and evil, hero and enemy are clearly drawn. The battle narrative is a story of triumph, the triumph of the hero over the enemy, and the triumph of good over evil.

2.7. Footnotes for Chapter 2

[1] H. Jason describes A. Skaftymov’s work, Poetika I genesis bylin [Poetics and origin of Russian epic songs] (1924) in “Precursors of Propp: Formalist Theories in Early Russian Ethnopoetics,” Journal of Poetics and Theory of Literature 3 (1977) 471-516. For V. Propp’s work, cf. his Morphology of the Folktale.

[2] H. Jason, “David and Goliath: A Folk Epic”? Biblica 60 (1979) 36-70. Also her “ilja of Muron and Tzar Kalin: A Proposal for a Model for the Narrative Structure of an Epic Struggle,” Slavica Hierosolymitana 5-6 (1981) 47-55.

[3] Joseph Campbell, A Hero with a Thousand Faces, Bollingen Series 17 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1949, 1968)

[4] Benjamin R. Foster, Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature, 2 vol. (Bethesda MD: CDL Press, 1996), I 350-409. Other translations include that of E.A. Speiser and A.K. Grayson in ANET3 60-72 = Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by James B. Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 3rd edition,1978). Stephanie Dalley has another in “The Epic of Creation” in Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (Oxford: Oxford University Press, revised edition, 2000), 228-277. On Marduk as a divine warrior, cf. Sa-Moon Kang, Divine War in the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989), pp. 37-38.

[5] There are two texts of the Anzu Myth: a partial Old Babylonian (OB) text which calls the hero Ningirsu, and a more complete Standard Babylonian or Later Version (LV) in four tablets from Middle and Late Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian manuscripts. The citations here follow Benjamin R. Foster, Before the Muses, I, 458-481 with both an Old Babylonian (OB) text and a Later Version (LV). See also Stephanie Dalley’s translation in Myths from Mesopotamia, the SB text (203-221), and the OB text (222-227). For Tablet I of the LV, see W.W. Hallo and W. L. Moran, “The First Tablet of the SB Recension of the Anzu Myth,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 31(1979) 65-115.

[6] The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian, translated with an introduction by Andrew George (London: Penguin Books, 1999), esp. xxi-xxx. He has also produced a critical edition: The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts, 2 Volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). There are many other translations including Dalley’s in Myths from Mesopotamia, 39-153.

[7] The fight between Baal and Yamm is found in KTU 1.2.I and 1.2.IV as given by Mark S. Smith in The Ugaritic Baal Cycle: Introduction with the Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU 1.1-2, Vetus Testamentum Supplement 55 (Leiden: Brill, 1994). Cf. also the translations in Stories from Ancient Canaan, edited and translated by Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012) 96-153; J.C.L. Gibson’s Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh: Clark, 21978) CTA 2 i and iv. Cf. also the translation of Dennis Pardee, “Ugaritic Myths” in Context of Scripture, edited by William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, vol. 1, pp. 241-282, esp. 245-249. Leiden: Brill, 2003.

[8] See W.K. Simpson’s translation in The Literature of Ancient Egypt, edited by W.K. Simpson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 3rd edition, 2003) 54‑66. He includes an extensive bibliography and for the standard text points to Roland Koch, Die Erzählung des Sinuhe (Brussels: Fondation égyptologique Reine Elisabeth, 1990). Also the translation by Miriam Lichtheim, “Sinuhe” in Context of Scripture, edited by William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, vol. 1, pp. 77-82. Leiden: Brill, 2003.

[9] See, for instance, the literary interpretation of Vincent A. Tobin, “The Secret of Sinuhe,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, 32 (1995) 161-178.

[10] My considerations are confined mainly to the last books of the Iliad beginning with Apollo’s call and commission of Hector in XV 237. For the text and translation of the Iliad, I have used that of A.T. Murray (Loeb Classical Library 170, 171; Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1924, 1971).

[11] By hero’s friend, I mean anyone, human or divine, who helps the hero carry out his mission by serving as a messenger, supplying weapons, etc.

[12] Anzu Myth, LV I 1‑14.

[13] Ee I 79‑104. The Samson tradition also begins with a birth episode (Judg 13). A further example can be found in the Hittite battle narrative The Song of Ullikummis, ANET3, 121‑125; however in this story the episode is transferred to the enemy champion; because of its fragmentary condition, I have not used it as a primary reference point. The “traditional birth episode” is not a unique feature of the battle narrative; it has been studied in depth by D. Irvin in Mytharion, Traditional Episode Tablet, Sheet 1. The episode includes eight motifs; only three are found in the Enūma eliš: the conception, the birth and the father’s reaction; Irvin does not list it in her examples presumably because of this brevity.

[14] Compare Gilgamesh’s approach to death in Gilg. Y 140-150, 189-192 to that found in Tablets VIII‑X, Gilgamesh embarks on a journey in search of eternal life.

[15] Iliad XV: the Trojan threat takes the form of a direct attack. Ee I 108 ‑ II 3: Tiamat, the bad gods push Tiamat into action, and she gives birth to a demonic army. KTU 1.2.I.11‑19, 31‑35: Yamm sends messengers with the outrageous demand that Baal be handed over as a slave. Typically this motif is followed by a provisional capitulation; here the helpless El agrees to the demand (i 36‑38). Often these two motifs accompany the siege of a city. See an example of the siege in the following: the Sumerian narrative Gilgamesh and Agga also with outrageous demands in ANET3, 44‑47 and in W. Römer’s Das sumerische KurzeposBilgameš und Akka” (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 209/1; Neukirchen: Butzon & Bereker, 1980); Josh 10:5; 1 Sam 11:1‑3 with outrageous demands; 1 Kgs 20:1‑12 with outrageous demands; 2 Kgs 6:24; 16:5; 18:13‑37 (outrageous demands); Jdt 7:19‑32 (provisional capitulation). The most famous siege is that of the Greeks against Troy, i.e. by “our” side against the enemy; the reversal here is perhaps one indication of the ambiguity of this war. In Sinuhe B 110, the Strong Man of Retenu, “a champion without equal” delivers a challenge, here directly to the hero; cf. also 1 Sam 17:8‑10. In the Anzu Myth LV I 58-85, the motif is cast in cultural terms; the mythic bird Anzu steals the Tablets of Destiny which control the order and fate of the “world,” and then he flees to his mountain.

[16] The fight between Baal and Yamm for kingship takes fertility as its major theme which is expressed in the identity of the two gods: the god of the storm against the god of the sea. Enūma eliš, though similar, contrasts the emotional and erratic Tiamat with the rational and measured Marduk, thus a contrast between anarchy and law. In Sinuhe the Strong Man is motivated by greed and jealousy, the latter touching on the hero’s alien origin; but the enemy’s motive is related only tangentially to the major theme of the story. Mindless greed for power motivates the mythic bird in the Anzu Myth, which is thematically less complex than the other stories, the most complex being the Iliad. Homer presents a war in which right and wrong are not divided into two opposing camps, and the enemy champion, Hector, far from being the symbol of evil, is in many ways the most sympathetic character in the story. To this extent, Homer moves beyond the tradition.

[17] In KTU 1.2.I 23‑24, the gods lower their heads to their knees when they see the messengers of Yamm. The Iliad includes a number of images to convey a sense of helplessness and to punctuate the mounting Trojan attack: fear in XV 279‑305; a desperate prayer in XV 367‑378; the continual retreat of the Greek forces; and finally the weeping of Patroclus XV 390‑404, XVI 1‑4.

[18] Ee II 4‑6, 49‑52, 121-122; Anzu Myth LV I 83-84: “Awful silence spread; deadly stillness reigned. / Their father and counselor Enlil was speechless”; also OB II 1‑5.

[19] The description of Tiamat giving birth to the demonic army is repeated word for word four times in Ee I 129-161; II 11-48; III 15-52, 73-110; a reaction of helplessness follows. Homer, rather than repeat the same description, builds the enemy attack so that it reaches higher pitches as the story progresses.

[20] Anzu I 87-90. Dalley reads “our name” in her Standard Babylonian text but “his name” in the OB II 7-10. Foster as well as Hallo and Moran read “his name” which would be more traditional: Hallo and Moran, “The First Tablet of the SB Anzu Myth,” 82-83.

[21] In Ee II 49‑119, Anshar calls first Ea and then Anu to deal with the threat of Tiamat. Ea is unsuccessful though the broken text makes it difficult to ascertain whether he refuses or is unable to complete the task. Anu accepts but is unable to approach Tiamat. In the Anzu Myth LV I 91-158 || OB II 11‑30, three false heroes are called and commissioned; but the false heroes object that the task is impossible, and the leader withdraws the commission. In the Iliad, Patroclus calls for the commission to drive the Trojans from the Greek camp, and Achilles grants the commission. Although Patroclus carries out this commission, he continues the battle and takes it to the walls of Troy against the command of Achilles; there the false hero dies—typically the fate of the heroic friend.

[22] Old Testament scholarship has dealt with this genre primarily in terms of the prophetic call narrative with Norman Habel providing the foundation: “The Form and Significance of the Call Narrative,” ZAW 77 (1965) 297‑323. Much scholarship has flowed from this down through at least Hava Shalom-Guy, “The Call Narratives of Gideon and Moses: Literary Convention or More?” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 11 (2011) 1-19. This line of scholarship tends to see the “call narrative” as an isolated biblical genre rather than a standard scene with various possibilities depending on the characters. What biblical scholars designate as the “call narrative,” I would classify as “a divine call and commission,” i.e. by a deity to a human character. As a result, these important biblical examples are a mixture of the call pattern with elements from the pattern of theophany as B.O. Long has observed; “Prophetic Call Traditions and Reports of Visions,” ZAW 84 (1972) 494‑500. The sign, considered a special feature of the biblical tradition, often corresponds to the preparation for battle which includes the arming of the hero. Thus Moses is given tricks, and the Lord puts his words into Jeremiah’s mouth. These biblical “call narratives” thus fit into a much larger genre. I have recently explored this in my article, “Basic Plots in the Bible: A Literary Approach to Genre,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 49 (2019) 198–213, esp. 201-202.

[23] Habel, “Call Narrative,” 318.

[24] Anzu Myth OB II 31‑73; LV I 161- SB I iii 99 – iv 13, II 1‑28: Ea first asks the mother of the hero, Mami, for permission to send her son, and then she calls her son before the assembled deities and commissions him. His response is recorded in just one line: “The warrior heeded his mother’s word” (OB II 73; LV II 28). Ee II 130-162: Ea’s call and commission of Marduk to go to the leader Anshar and the hero’s response. The Iliad XV 254‑263 relates the divine call and commission of the disheartened Hector by Apollo to fight against the Greeks.

[25] The pattern is little used in the heroic narratives, but it is common for the king to call for a commission from the deity in the royal tradition discussed below. Still, the pattern is found in Iliad XVI 5‑274: Patroclus calls on Achilles to send him against the Trojans, and the friend’s request is granted without objection although Patroclus expected Achilles to object.

[26] Anzu Myth OB II 11‑30; SB I 91-160.

[27] Gilg. Y 172‑215, esp., 192-193 and Y245-271, esp. 249-250. The pattern also shapes the scene in which Enkidu objects to the hero’s proposed fight against Ḫuwawa: Y 104-160. In the Iliad, the pattern shapes the meeting between Achilles and his mother (XVI 5‑274). In 1 Kgs 22:19‑22 the grand pattern is condensed into four verses: general call (22:19‑20a); false heroes (22:20b); call for commission (22:21); leader’s question (22:22a); answer (22:22b); commission (22:22c). Cf. also 1 Sam 17:32‑37. In Baal and Yamm, the hero calls for the commission, but the leader ignores the call (KTU 1.2.I 24‑28).

[28] The hero’s parent in both the Enūma eliš and the Anzu Myth adds the exhortation to duty to their call and commission of the hero; Ee II 130-134; Anzu Myth OB II 44‑72; LV I 198-210; II 1-28. After meeting with the elders, Gilgamesh goes to his mother, the goddess Ninsun, who adopts Enkidu, entrusts her son to him and prays to Shamash for a safe journey; Gilg. III 19-106.

[29] A battle plan is given in the Anzu Myth OB II 43‑72, LV II 5-25; cf. Josh 6:2‑5; 8:1‑2, 3‑8 (ambush). The elders of Uruk bless Gilgamesh and give him advice; Gilg. Y 247-271.

[30] A blessing by the elders is found in Gilg. Y 213-215 and by the young men in Y247-260, and 285-286 which reads: “May your God go [before you] / May [Shamash] permit you to win [your victory!]” Cf. also 1 Sam 17:37b. Ninsun also prays for Gilgamesh and Enkidu; III 63-75, 88-106.

[31] The major example of the divine commission, delivered directly by a god, is found in Iliad XV 254‑261, discussed below. The divine commission with these assurances is a typical feature of the royal battle narratives discussed below. For the biblical tradition, cf. for example Josh 1:5,9; Judg 6:14; 2 Kgs 6:16. The motif of the blessing or the assurance is not confined to the battle narrative; cf. H.D. Preuss, “… ich werde mit dir sein,” ZAW 80 (1968) 139‑173.

[32] M. Nissinen, “Fear Not: A Study on an Ancient Near Eastern Phrase,” in The Changing Face of Form Criticism for the Twenty-First Century, edited by M.A. Sweeney and E.B. Zvi (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003) 122-61.P.E. Dion, “The ‘Fear Not’ Formula and Holy War,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 32 (1970) 565‑570, esp. 566; also H.M. (=P.E.) Dion, “The Patriarchal Traditions and Literary Form of the ‘Oracles of Salvation,’” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 29 (1967) 198‑206. Also M. Weippert, “‘Heiliger Krieg’ in Israel und Assyrien: Kritische Anmerkuhampion, but strangely weeps (helplessness) when he sees the foe. Cf. 1 Sam 11:6 for Saul’s anger. Sinuhe 113‑127: the text does not refer to anger, but the hero’s speech is characterized by his righteous indignation; also 1 Sam 17:26. In both cases, the rhetorical question helps convey the hero’s indignation. Cf. also Judg 10:16; then, perhaps, Exod 3:7.

[34] Ee II 106‑115; KTU 1.2.I 24‑28; 1 Sam 17:32.

[35] Iliad 18.478-608. In Baal and Yamm, Kothar wa-Ḫasis fabricates clubs during the fight with the first-named Yagarrish and the second Ayyamarri; KTU I.2.IV 11-20. Mark S. Smith, Poetic Heroes: Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World (Grand Rapids, MI: Willliam B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014) 163-164. Also Bowra, Heroic Poetry, 149‑154.

[36] Ee IV 30, 35‑58: both heroes and leaders take part in the preparation which includes the weapons, armor, chariot, and muster of the army. Iliad XVI 130‑220,257‑271: after Patroclus has received the commission from Achilles, the preparation of all four elements follows; XVIII 127‑137: after Achilles answers his mother’s objection, Thetis agrees to her son’s going to battle but makes him promise not to enter the fight until she returns with new armor; XVIII 203‑218: in the next scene Achilles is commissioned to mount the battlement in order to turn the Trojans back; Athena clothes the hero with the sunset in place of armor, and she adds her voice to his so that his shouting becomes a weapon and turns the Trojans back; XIX 357‑424: Achilles’ meeting with the Greek leaders ends with a preparation which contains all four major elements; in addition, the gods strengthen the fasting hero with ambrosia and nectar while the Greek forces eat (XIX 338‑356). See also Kang, Divine War, 28-29.

[37] Sinuhe 127-129. Hans Goedicke reads Sinuhe B 134 (R 159) to B139 (R 166) to mean that “his opponent came with the full battle gear customary in the Levant at the time. Sinuhe, however, mindful of his ‘Egyptian’ upbringing, opts for a bow and dagger as weapons to carry out the fateful duel. Thus he rejects the Retenu-hero’s battle gear and insists that it be taken away. Only after it is laid down is Sinuhe ready to commence the actual duel”; “Sinuhe’s Duel,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, 21 (1984) 197-201, esp. 199. This would emphasize Sinuhe’s Egyptian heritage which is a major theme in the story.

[38] Cf. the call of the Myrmidons in Iliad XVI 200‑209, 269‑274; Ramesses tries to call his army back into battle, but they do not come but leave him to fight the enemy army single-handedly; Battle of Kadesh P 115.

[39] Though the hero’s mother harnesses the seven whirlwinds in the Anzu Myth, OB II 75-78, Ninurta does these things for himself in LV II 30-34.

[40] Gilg. IV & V: the journey is broken into days and extended by dreams.

[41] Scholes and Kellogg, Nature of Narrative, 228. They delineate three types of journeys in terms of movement: “the journey to a distant goal (e.g., the Aeneid), and the return journey (e.g., the Odyssey), and the quest (e.g., the Argonautica).”Other examples of the journey from the ancient Near East may be found in the Gilgamesh Epic, Tablets IV-V, IX-XI, XII; also the journeys in the Sumerian stories of Lugalbanda; cf. C. Wilcke, Das Lugalbanda Epos (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1969). Cf. also A.B. Lord, Singer of Tales, 162; also A.B. Lord, “A.B. Lord, “Tradition and the Oral Poet: Homer, Huso, and Avdo Medjedovic,” Atti del Convegno internazionale sul tema: Poesia epica e la sua formazione (Problemi Attuali di scienza e di Cultura 139; Rome: Academia Nazionale dei Licei 1970),” 13-30, esp. 24-28. Also Merrit Moseley’s “The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hero’s Journey” in The Hero’s Journey, edited by Harold Bloom and Blake Hobby (NY: Blooms Literary Criticism, 2009) 63-74. See also my discussion in “Basic Plots,” 202-206.

[42] Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, 319-320.

[43] Ee II 130-134: Ea and Marduk. Anzu Myth OB II 43‑72; LV I 198-210; II 1‑27: the hero’s mother commissions the hero in the name of the community. Iliad XVIII 36‑147: Achilles and Thetis. Gilg. III 15-133+: Gilgamesh and his mother Ninsun.

[44] Iliad XVI 221‑256: Achilles pours out a libation for Patroclus, but the prayer is only partly answered by Zeus. Gilg. Y214-235: Gilgamesh prays to his god Shamash and promises to build a house for him on his return.

[45] The traditional messenger episode in the ancient Near East has been studied by D. Irvin, Mytharion, Traditional Episode Table, Sheet 2. The biblical material has been subjected to an exhaustive examination by Ann M. Vater, “Narrative Patterns for the Story of Commissioned Communications in the Old Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 99 (1980) 365‑382. Basically, the episode has three basic elements: 1) call and commission of a messenger in which the message is delivered verbatim; 2) journey; 3) the delivery of the message verbatim. Such is the case in Ee III 1‑128. The pattern may now be reversed with a return message. Furthermore, the pattern may be very minimal; cf. especially Vater on this point. The messenger episode is a functional pattern that transfers information; in general, the pattern itself is much less important than the information conveyed and the larger context in which it is set.

[46] Cf. D. Irvin, Mytharion, Traditional Episode Table, Sheet 1. She lists five motifs, the last four being found in the Enūma eliš: 1) orders to prepare a feast (missing): 2) invitations (III 1‑124): 3) the arrival of the guest (III 129‑133); 4) eating and drinking (III 134‑137); 5) problem (III 138-IV 34). In Baal and Yamm, only motifs 4 and 5 appear; KTU 1.2.I 20‑21, 22‑38. Cf. also Bowra, Heroic Poetry, 179‑183.

[47] For the reconciliation of hero and leader, see the story of Bellerophon in the Iliad (VI 155-197) in which the queen falsely accuses the hero of attempting to seduce her. The motif is found also in the Egyptian “The Story of the Two Brothers,” § iii; ANET3 p.24. Also Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Gen 39:7-20; the Greek story of Phaedra, Theseus, and Hippolytus told by Euripides among others. The story of Bellerophon, as Gunkel noted, also includes the motif of a hero bearing a letter calling for his death; The Folktale in the Old Testament, translated by Michael D. Rutter (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1987) 145.

Motifs of alienation and reconciliation also shape the Egyptian “Story of Sinuhe” where the hero because of his fear or cowardice flees Egypt at the accession of Sesostris I who invites the hero after his victory over the Strong Man of Retenu to return. The Odyssey provides another variation in which the alienation between god and hero creates the basic tension of the story; under pressure from Zeus (Bk. XVIII), Poseidon relents so that the hero may return, defeat the suitors, reunite with his family and take possession of his kingship and kingdom. The alienation of hero and deities also shapes Tablets VI and VIII of the Gilgamesh Epic.

In the Bible, the story of Jacob and Esau (Gen 25; 27; 32-33) and that of Joseph and his brother (Gen 37,39-50) recount the alienation and reconciliation of brothers. In the story of David and Saul, the pattern of alienation is introduced first between deity and king in 1 Sam 13-15 and then between king and hero in 1 Sam 19-31.

[48] Violent death brings in its wake a series of traditional responses from those who are bound to the dead person by family or covenant ties. The traditional mechanism can be seen at work several times in the Iliad (Glaucus’ response to Sarpedon’s death in Iliad XVI 508-867, Achilles’ response to Patroclus’ death in XVII-XXIII, and Priam’s response to Hector’s death in XXIV), and the duties demanded by others toward the dead carry the Iliad forward from Book XV to the conclusion. To the Homeric examples can be added the response to the death of Baal (Coogan and Smith, Stories, p. 144, 5.6.23-25), the response of Daniel and Pughat to Aqhat’s death (Coogan and Smith, Stories, p. 47-49, 3.1-2), and David’s response to Absalom’s death (2 Sam 18:18-19:11). Typical motifs are the following: 1) messenger report of the death to an absent hero and/or family; 2) reactions of grief; 3) formal lament by the hero, family, and/or others; 4) retrieval of the body; 5) burial of the dead with mourning; 6) avenging of the death by the hero/family; B. Fenik notes that it is common for a man to avenge his slain “friend”/”brother”; Typical Battle Scenes in the Iliad, 139, 162.

[49] Verbal exchange: Ee IV 71‑86: Marduk accuses Tiamat of hating those whom she bore and challenges her to single combat. Anzu Myth LV II 39-47; Gilg. V 85-94; Iliad XXII 249‑272. The text of KTU 1.2.I 45+ breaks off before the content of Baal’s message to Yamm becomes clear, but there has already been an exchange between Baal and the messengers of Yamm at the banquet. Verbal exchanges by messenger, rather than face to face, become the norm in the royal texts. For biblical examples, see Judg 11:12‑28; 1 Sam 17:42‑47; 2 Kgs 14:8‑11. Susan Niditch, citing Quincy Wright’s A Study of War, says that “the goal in taunting is, in fact, to preserve prestige and avoid physical combat: the taunt is often accompanied by bluffing, counter-taunting, and more bluffing.” Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) 92-93; Q. Wright, A Study of War, 2 vol. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1942) 1401-1415.

[50] Gilg. V 85-94: Ḫumbaba mocks Enkidu and promises to slit Gilgamesh’s throat. Iliad XXII 260‑272. In the latter, the insults are all on the hero’s side, a twist of the motif. Also 1 Sam 17:42‑44.

[51] In addition to the false confidence manifested by the insults, see Anzu Myth LV II 39-42 where Anzu brags about stealing the Tablets of Destiny and demands to know who has come to fight him. Iliad XXII 278‑311: after Achilles has failed with his first shot, Hector, already deceived by Athena, believes falsely that he will be the victor. See also below p.

[52] Anzu Myth LV II 48-Assy. II 57‑147: Ninurta’s attempt to hit Anzu with an arrow fails because the mythic bird is able to turn the arrow back with his powerful word; Ninurta sends a messenger to announce the failure to the leader who sends back a commission, essentially the same as the first, but with the addition of a new stratagem for the battle plan and with the promise of winning the name “Mighty One” (II 147). KTU 1.2.IV 1‑18: As the column begins, Baal is recoiling (seemingly) from an initial(?) failure in the fight with Yamm. Kothar‑and‑Ḫasis offers encouragement to the hero and gives him a flying club which also fails to bring down the enemy champion in the first attempt. Iliad XXII 273‑277: Achilles hurls his spear at Hector who avoids this initial attempt, but Athena, unseen by the Trojan hero, retrieves the spear for the hero. Here the initial failure allows Hector’s false confidence to build the dramatic irony of the story. In each case, the initial failure is followed by a return to motifs from the middle section whether from the scene of call and commission or from the preparation for battle (gifts of weapons).

[53] Even while Ninurta is engaged with Anzu in battle, the messenger Sharur goes back and forth between the hero and Ea to bring counsel to direct the battle; Anzu Myth SB II 103-147. In Gilg. V 137-140, Hittite recension, Shamash appears to the hero after the foe has made his presence felt, and rouses the mighty gale-winds against Ḫumbaba. KTU 1.2.IV 18‑23: Kothar wa-Ḫasis provides two flying clubs. In Iliad XXII 214‑225, Athena appears to Achilles and assures him that Hector will not escape now.

[54] Iliad XXII 289‑293: Hector’s spear hits Achilles’ shield but does no damage. Sinuhe 134‑137: The Strong Man of Retenu discharges a whole arsenal of weapons at the hero who avoids them all. The emphasis laid upon the sheer number of the enemy’s arms must not be overlooked in the interpretation.

[55] Ee IV 87‑103: Marduk engages the manic Tiamat in single-combat and when she opens her mouth to consume him, he drives in the Evil Wind to hold open her body and shoots her with an arrow. Anzu Myth LV III 1-21: Ninurta uses two weapons to strike repeatedly until Anzu drops his wings; he then with arrow and dart pierces Anzu’s heart, lungs and wings. Ḫumbaba pleads for his life twice, but Enkidu encourages the hero to finish the battle causing the enemy to curse them; finally, Gilgamesh strikes at Ḫumbaba’s neck: V 85-265. Baal subdues Yamm with two flying clubs provided by Kothar wa-Ḫasis: KTU 1.2.IV 18‑23. Iliad XXII 312‑329: Achilles hits Hector with the spear, retrieved by Athena and originally given to him by Peleus his father. Sinuhe 138: The hero hits the Strong Man with a single arrow.

[56] Ee IV 104a; KTU 1.2.IV 25‑26; Iliad XXII 330a; Sinuhe 139.

[57] Ee IV 104b; Iliad XXII 330b‑366; Sinuhe 140‑141.

[58] Ee IV 129‑132, 136‑138: Marduk crushes Tiamat’s skull and tramples her legs, but the severing of the body is reserved for the first act of creation. In the Anzu Myth LV III 10-20, Ninurta cuts off the wings and shoots an arrow into his heart. In KTU 1.2.IV 27, yqŧ bʿl wyšt.ym.ykly tpt.nhr is translated by Gibson: “Baal dragged out Yamm and laid him down, he made an end of Judge Nahar.” Smith translates it: “Baal drags and dismembered(?) Yamm, / He destroys Judge River (p. 323). The difficulties of translation are discussed by Smith in the Ugaritic Baal Cycle, 351-356. In Gilg. V 264-265: Gilgamesh strikes Ḫumbaba’s neck “and the ravines did run with his blood” (Ish 25’), and on their journey back, “Gilgamesh [carried] the head of Ḫumbaba”; V 302. Iliad XXII 371‑404: The young men stab Hector’s body as they view it, and Achilles drags the corpse around Troy; however, the hero does not carry out his threat to mutilate the body but gives the body back to Priam, Hector’s father. The breaking of this motif in the Iliad becomes the climax of the story. In Sinuhe 140, the hero finishes off the Strong Man with the foe’s own ax. See also the similar analysis of Frolov and Wright, “Homeric and Ancient Near Eastern Intertextuality in 1 Samuel 17,” 466.

[59] Sinuhe 141; 1 Sam 17:52. Cf. also von Rad, Holy War in Ancient Israel, 48; he cites war cries also in Judg 7:20 and similarly in Josh 6:5; 1 Sam 17:20; 2 Chr 20:21‑22. See also the note on the victory cry below in §2.5.4.

[60] Cf. the discussion in Chapter 3 on the enemy’s recognition of defeat and their destruction or capture.

[61] Ee IV 106‑122. Similarly, in the Battle of Kadesh, Ramesses II defeats the Hittite army single‑handedly. Samson also defeats the Philistine forces alone in Judg 15.

[62] Ee IV 121‑122: Marduk takes the Tablet of Destiny from Qingu, Tiamat’s consort. At the end of Gilg. V, Gilgamesh and Enkidu take plunder from the cedar forest which is better preserved in two Old Babylonian fragments; George, Gilgamesh Epic, 46-47. Iliad XXII 367‑368: Achilles takes the armor which Hector had taken from Patroclus. Sinuhe 143‑147: Sinuhe plunders the Strong Man’s camp. Smith notes that these are often mentioned in warrior poetry; Poetic Heroes, 17-18.

[63] Anzu Myth LV III 22-23: “The wind bore Anzu’s wing feathers / As a sign of his glad tidings. / Dagan rejoiced when he saw his sign.” He then invites the gods to reward the hero, and they send a messenger to that effect.

[64] Sinuhe 141‑142: the hero gives praise to Montu; cf. the discussion in Chapter 3 on “Plunder, Recognition and Reward of the Deity and King.”

[65] G. Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1981) Ch. 5.

[66] Ee IV 133‑134; V‑VII: after the initial scene of recognition, the creation of the world and the establishment of Babylon alternate with more gifts and speeches ending with the proclamation of Marduk’s fifty names. KTU 1.2.IV 32: Athtart, seemingly, proclaims “Baal is/shall be king.” Iliad XXIII 35: Achilles is brought to Agamemnon, but the scene is still dominated by Patroclus’ death; in a sense, the real scene of recognition comes in Book XXIV between Achilles and Priam, the enemy king. Sinuhe 142‑143: the hero is embraced by his prince, but the more important recognition comes from the pharaoh later in the story. In the Anzu Myth, LV I 90 and OB II 10, the hero is promised the reward of a great name and also to the false heroes (I 97, 119, 140. Also in LV II 27 and 103, Ninurta is told that his name will be “Mighty One.” The end of SB III contains a number of names given to Ninurta including Ningirsu, Lugalbanda and other names pointing to the Sumerian background. Gilg. Y 188: Gilgamesh undertakes the fight against Ḫuwawa in order to “establish for ever a name eternal.” In Gilg. V 244-245, Enkidu encourages Gilgamesh to finish the fight: “Establish for ever [a fame] that endures / how Gilgamesh slew [ferocious] Ḫumbaba!” Likewise for David; he “had more success than all the servants of Saul; so that his name was highly esteemed” (1 Sam 18:30); cf. also 2 Sam 7:9,23, 26; 8:13. The gift of the name in Phil 2:9-10 belongs to this tradition. Cf. also Eph 1:21; 2 Thes 1:12.

[67] Anzu Myth LV III; the end of the tablet which in its fragmentary condition still records some fifteen names of the hero.

[68] J. Klein, “Šulgi X” in Three Šulgi Hymns (Ramat-Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan University Press, 1981) 133, 138. Cf. also F.R. Kraus, “Altemesopotamische Lebensfuhl,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 19 (1960) 117-132, esp. 127-131.

[69] The analysis here supports Cross’ argument against S. Herrmann who would trace the “making of a great name” (ʿśh šm gdwl) to an Egyptian source (ı̓rı̓ rn , etc.). As Cross says, “the notion of ‘making a great name’ is a common Hamito-Semitic concept, forming parallel idioms in many daughter languages. F.M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973) 248-249. S. Herrmann, Die Königsnovelle in Ägypten und Israel, (Leipzig: Karl-Marx-Universitat, 1954) 41.

[70] M. Weinfeld cites the line, from a stele: “I inscribed my stele and established my name forever”; Deuteronomy 193, n. 4; KAH II 26:10. Weinfeld also points to the word pair of “name” and “stele” in Isa 56:5. Similarly in the Enūma eliš, Marduk turns the enemy gods into statues and says, “Let this be a token that this may never be forgotten” (V 71-76). The establishment of a name is also related to the founding of a house (= dynasty) whereby the hero’s name is carried on through the generations as with Abraham in Gen 12:2. The winning of a name is also connected with building projects; the tower of Babylon is begun in order to “make a name” (Gen 11:4). Even so, the battle is the typical arena in which glory is won. For Ramesses II who wins “a name” at the Battle of Kadesh, see below in §3.5.2. Also Kang, Divine War, 71-72.

[71] Athtart reacts to Baal’s scattering of Yamm by saying: “Yamm surely is dead! / Baal rei[gns(?)]. Kothar or someone affirms this “Yamm surely is dead! / [Baal reigns (?)] / He indeed rules. Athtart then reaffirms this; Baal and Yamm, KTU I.2.IV 28-41, pp. 356. The

[72] Anthony Spalinger, “Orientations on Sinuhe,” Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, 25 (1998) 311-339, esp. 332.


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