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Ezekiel 29:3 and Its Ancient Near Eastern Context

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Abstract The chief aim of this essay is to posit a well-known Mesopotamian royal and divine epithet, ušumgallu “great dragon,” as the source behind Ezekiel’s enigmatic description of Pharaoh in 29.3, hattannīn haggādôl, “the great dragon.” This relationship sheds new light and meaning on an old problem: why does Ezekiel refer to Pharaoh as a dragon? Rather than viewing this prophetic expression as a pejorative, the cognate evidence argues for the converse by rooting it in an enduring tradition of regal titles. Replicating Akkadian ušumgallu (Sumerian UŠUM.GAL) as efficiently as possible and drawing upon Israelite cosmological history (viz. Gen. 1.21a), Ezekiel feigned including Pharaoh within a venerable, long line of Mesopotamian kings and deities to receive this title. Instead, and as is characteristic of Ezekiel’s rhetoric, he upended the putative associations of the “great dragon,” thereby exposing its true subordinate position under the hegemony of YHWH.

Affiliations: 1: The Ohio State University


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