I'm thinking about the language of "sonship" after just reading through Enuma Elish (also known as The Glorification of Marduk). The story is about how Marduk became enthroned as king of the gods at his temple (Esagila) in Babylon (after quelling the rebellion of Tiamat, goddess of the ocean, by hacking her to pieces and creating the heavens and earth from her body and then creating humans out of the blood of rebel god in order to serve the gods--yeah, it's gross).

The Anunnuki gods (as homage) build a temple to honor Marduk, and then all the gods sit down to a celebratory banquet where they grant Marduk kingship of the gods and confirm his dominion. The gods are referred to multiple times throughout the epic as Marduk's "fathers," and he is referred to as their firstborn. When they confirm his dominion, they say, "Most exalted be the son, our avenger. Let his sovereignty be surpassing, have no rival." They also charge him with providing not just for creatures, but for the gods: "May he establish for his fathers the great food-offerings."

This is just one more window into how "sonship" was associated with rulership in ancient Mesopotamia. When talking about rule, it's not about the dads, it's about the sons. In Mesopotamia, a human king was often referred to as the "son of god" or "image of god" (or both). We see this language in the Hebrew Bible, too. The term "son of god" is sometimes applied to an angelic figure, Israel, or Israel's king, perhaps most notably Psalm 2 (Yahweh's anointed king is also Yahweh's son).

And then there's the famous 2 Samuel 7 passages where King David wants to build a house (a temple) for Yahweh, but Yahweh responds to David's offer by saying (this is my  super-short paraphrase), "I've been living in a tent since the days I brought Israel up from Egypt, and I've never asked for a house. Nope. You won't build a house (a temple) for me, but I'm going to a build a house (offspring/kingdom) for you. I'll raise up one of your offspring and establish his kingdom. And he'll build a house for my name. I will be a father to him, and he will be to me a son."

We know from the rest of the story that David's son Solomon ends up becoming king and building Yahweh's temple.

Yahweh's initial rejection of David's offer to build him a temple is an interesting contrast to Marduk's desire for the building of Esagila. The interplay between "fathers" and "sons," tells us much about the interplay of divine and human rule in the Hebrew Bible.

Yahweh's divine kingship is often assumed throughout, but you don't get the sense that Yahweh feels the need to legitimize or prove his kingship. This is perhaps what we might expect in a monolatrous context: when you've only got one god to worship, that god doesn't need his kingship to be established by others gods and he doesn't have any rivals. (Except, perhaps, the humans that he has made just the teensiest bit lower than gods (Psalm 8), when they start to think that their spectacular humanity isn't fantastic enough, that the glorious freedom of the sons of god just isn't free enough.)

The portrayal of Yahweh's interaction with David makes it clear that Yahweh is the one who will  establish the kingship of David's descendant, not the other way around: it's not David who establishes Yahweh's rule in a temple, but Yahweh who establishes the rule of David's son. The son doesn't make the father, the father makes the son.

But unlike the the Marduk's "fathers," who take the backseat now that Marduk's at the wheel, Yahweh doesn't fade into the background. The elevation of his own "sons" (be they Israel's kings, Israel, or the primordial humans in Genesis 1-2) doesn't threaten his own sovereignty. He's not afraid that humans will usurp him (they can't), but things get complicated when humans stop leaning into their human rule and potential and instead busy themselves trying to to be Yahweh's rival.

This is a recurring theme we see in many parts of the Hebrew Bible: the deliberate distancing of Yahweh from anthropomorphism. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of verbal anthropomorphisms (e.g., you can speak of Yahweh's body, even if metaphorically, "hand of god," "eyes of god," etc.). And of course there are visions of Yahweh and times where a messenger of Yahweh appears to be human, but he kind of might be Yahweh as well, and it isn't always clear (Genesis 18, anyone?).

But when compared to the unabashed portrayals of gods in human form in Mesopotamia, you can feel the difference in the Hebrew Bible: Yahweh can be imagined in human language and terms, but he's also not like humans as well. Gods in Mesopotamia eat and drink, have sex, grow tired, etc. Not so Yahweh. Oh, wait...he kinda sorta eats. He receives food offerings, but he receives them by smelling the smoke instead of direct consumption, emphasizing that while he's interested in enjoying the relational benefits of a meal, he's not dependent on it for nourishment.

This de-anthropomorization of Yahweh actually alleviates a lot of the tension between divine and human rule felt in texts like Enuma Elish.

Creation in Enuma Elish is a cosmic battle against Tiamat. Marduk creates the world by vanquishing Tiamat and her rebel forces and cutting her up to make the world. In Genesis, god simply separates the waters above the earth from the waters below, whereas Marduk looked at Tiamat's body and "split her like a shellfish into two parts: half of her he set up and ceiled it as sky, pulled down the bar and posted guards. He bade them allow not her waters to escape" (Tablet IV, lines 137-140).

Humans in the biblical creation myths are made from dust and divine breath, while in Enuma Elish, humans are created through violence: Marduk kills one of the rebel's from Tiamat's band and makes humans from its blood. The express purpose for the creation of humans in Enuma Elish is to relieve the gods of their work. Genesis 1-2 certainly has the idea of humans doing working (cultivating and keeping the garden and reigning over the earth), but it isn't work for Yahweh god, but simply the normal work of human life: cultivation for food and survival, care of other creatures, and the building of culture.

Humans in Enuma Elish are basically servants, while gods get to rule and feast and have awesome temples. The de-anthropomophization of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible lets him be the divine creator king and frees humans to be the awesome, glorious, spectacular humans he made them to be. Yahweh doesn't need humans to serve him--they can just enjoy the world he created as long as they don't abuse their freedom and power.

We see more of this sort of thing in Genesis 1-2. Enuma Elish is the story of how Marduk became king of all the gods in Babylon (taking up residence in his temple), while Genesis 1-2 is a story about the establishment of humans as rulers on the earth, and (perhaps) the enthronement of Yahweh, but Yahweh's divine kingship is once again assumed more than broadcasted.

If Genesis 1-2 were primarily about the enthronement of Yahweh, we'd expect a fancy temple-building scene at the end like there was for Marduk. The god who creates the world is entitled to a temple and kingship. There's certainly temple language in Genesis 1, but it's much more subtle, and the creator god's kingship is presumed more than declared. The god in Genesis 1 creates the world by issuing commands much like a king, and at the end of his creation, he "rests" from his work in creating the world (Gen. 2 1-3). The language of "rest" often appears in Mesopotamian texts in reference to the idea of god's presence coming to occupy a temple. If this god is coming to rest enthroned in his temple, it's the temple of creation, which is the domain he's just given to the humans to rule. Is he threatened by this overlap in domains? Nope. He's happy to sit back and let humans rule.

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