reflecTiOns On The TranslaTaBiliTy Of The nOTiOn Of hOliness Beate Pongratz-leisten

& Budick, Iser
1996 unpublished
Even while I was still a student in ancient Near Eastern languages, the question of whether the notion of the "holy" is an adequate concept to apply to ancient Near Eastern religions, their world view and their cult always simmered in the back of my mind. 1 Although I cannot treat the question in a comprehensive way in this article, I would like to take this opportunity to raise a few questions regarding the complicated aspect of the translatability of cultures. 2 It is with real pleasure that
more » ... dedicate these considerations to Simo Parpola who, like myself, passionately pursued the question of how to approach ancient Near Eastern religions. My approach is twofold. First I survey some examples of former Biblical and ancient Near Eastern scholarship tackling the issue in order to sensitize the reader to the problem. In a second step I will take the microscopic venue and discuss the Sumerian words dadag and ku(-g) especially in the context of temple building to show how the perception and conception of the temple changed over time in the history of Mesopotamia. While "holiness" has been a topic of considerable interest in Classical and Biblical studies in the last decades, scholars of Near Eastern studies have only very recently dealt with this issue. However, as often happens, ancient Near Eastern research has followed the model set by biblical scholarship failing to recognize that studies of cult in ancient Israel, for instance, were at least in part evaluated negatively in German Protestant thought. 3 In Biblical studies, the topics of cult and "holiness" were closely connected with the Book of Leviticus, a translation of cultic norms Studies on cult in ancient Israel and Judah have found sympathetic reflections mainly in Roman Catholic thought, and, as advanced by Ph. P. Jenson, "a second factor which encouraged a negative evaluation of the cult (or certain aspects of it) is to be found in the Bible itself, above all in the prophetic criticism of the cult," see Jenson 1992: 16-17. beaTe ponGraTZ-leisTen into literature. 4 Until recently, at the lexical level, Old testament scholars stuck to the traditional rendering of "holy' for qōdeš, "profane" for ḥōl, "clean" or "pure" for ṭāhôr, and "unclean" or "impure" for ṭāmē͗ thereby already introducing through their translations the modern dichotomy of "sacred" and "profane." 5 H. Ringgren justified this translation with the following comment: Im AT sind qōdeš (heilig) und ḥōl (profan) einander ausschließende Begriffsinhalte (vgl. Lev. 10,10; Ez. 44,23); sie beruhen auf allgemein menschlicher Erfahrung, so daß deren Unterschiedlichkeit bzw. Gegensätzlichkeit auch in der religions-wissenschaftlichen Forschung unbestritten geblieben ist. 6
fatcat:xu33udgrobbtxfp6qhxs2k3nvi