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THE MĒSU-TREE AND THE ANIMAL INSIDE: THEOMORPHISM AND THERIOMORPHISM IN DANIEL 4

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The present article offers an analysis of Daniel 4. It argues that the literary origins of the tree imagery in the biblical text most probably lie in Mesopotamian conceptions of the mēsu-tree, the tree that supplies the flesh of the gods, the material of their statuary presence. The presence of the imagery in Ezekiel 31 suggests that the Mesopotamian concept was incorporated into exilic and post-exilic redefinitions of the legitimate channels of the iconic worship of YHWH. Within a priestly redefinition of YHWH's iconic presence in Judah, Adam's physical resemblance to YHWH provided in humanity the only legitimate alternative to idol worship. Daniel 4 and its context exhibit similar ideological concerns and construct a similar solution to the ongoing iconic dilemma: humanity functions as the only legitimate equivalent of ancient Near Eastern cultic statues, as the replacement of YHWH's cultic statue of the First Temple no longer extant. The iconic connotation of the tree imagery requires a reassessment of the animal deforma¬tion of the tree, albeit a late addition to the original stratum of the narrative. Commonly interpreted through the lens of ancient Near Eastern depictions of human heroes with animal traits or life-habits, Nebuchadnezzar's loss of his dendromorphism can only mean in the terms of the parable the deformation of a theomorphic state. Within the parameters of this ideological context and of the tree parable, by losing his theomorphism and becoming theriomorphic, Nebuchadnezzar ceases to be object of worship and becomes worshipper. Moreover, in his deformation he also destroys the only legitimate object of iconic worship: himself. The context of Daniel 4, namely Daniel 3 and Daniel 5, suggests that in its deformed state humanity is only left to mistakenly worship idols.

10.1163/18177565-90000162
/content/journals/10.1163/18177565-90000162
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/content/journals/10.1163/18177565-90000162
2007-03-30
2017-10-19

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