Here’s where theology gets weird.
The ancestors who were venerated at the kingdom of Ugarit included an ancient Amorite tribe called the Tidnum or Tidanu by the last Sumerian kings of Mesopotamia. At Ugarit, they were called the Ditanu or Didanu. This tribe was so frightening, the Sumerians of Ur built a 170-mile long wall to “keep Tidnum away.”
Archaeologists have found texts that show the Amorite founders of Babylon and the ruling house of the Kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia (18th century B.C., the time of Isaac and Jacob) traced their ancestry back to this tribe.[i] However, by the time of Ugarit, the Ditanu/Didanu appear to be a legendary group rather than historical, definitely among the pantheon of gods.
In a Ugaritic ritual text only translated about forty years ago, the Didanu are among a number of spirits summoned during a ritual that was apparently performed at the coronation of the last king of Ugarit, Ammurapi III:
“Sacrifice of the Shades” liturgy:
You are summoned, O Rephaim of the earth,
You are invoked, O council of the Didanu!
Ulkn, the Raphi’, is summoned,
Trmn, the Raphi’, is summoned,
Sdn-w-rdn is summoned,
Ṯr ‘llmn (or, the Eternal Bull) is summoned,
the Rephaim of old are summoned!
You are summoned, O Rephaim of the earth,
You are invoked, O council of the Didanu![ii]
Like the Rephaim, the council of the Didanu holds an honored place among the spirits. Other texts from Ugarit suggest that kings aspired to be counted among that number upon their deaths. For example, in the Legend of Keret, El blesses the king thus:
This further links the Rephaim to the council/assembly of the Didanu. And a fragmentary ritual text, RS 24.248 (KTU 1.104), mentions “the temple of Ditanu,” making it clear that this council or assembly was more than just the honored dead, they were counted among the gods.[iv] In fact, in my view, the name of the greatest king of the Amorites confirms this.
The etymology of the name of Hammurabi, the famous lawgiver of the Amorite dynasty that founded Babylon, is usually explained thus: Ammu(“father” or “paternal kinsman”) + rapi (“healer”). But scholars can’t point to any texts outside the Bible where the Akkadian and Ugaritic cognates to rp’, the root behind “Rephaim,” definitely mean “healer.” Instead, it’s more likely related to the Akkadian word meaning “to be large, great,” and by extension “leader” or “chief.”
Since rapiis obviously the theophoric element (the god-name) in Ammu-rapi, it’s more plausible to render the name Hammurabi as “my fathers are the Rephaim,” or “my fathers are the Great Ones.”
By the way, there were at least five other Amorite kings named Hammurabi over a period of more than five hundred years, from the great lawgiver to the last king of Ugarit, Ammurapi III. Through their names, the kings of the Amorites claimed a direct link to the Rephaim, who were the demigod sons of the Watchers, the Nephilim.
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The link to the Greek pantheon, not surprisingly, also comes from groundbreaking work by Estonian scholar Amar Annus, whose research is paradigm-shifting. His 1999 paper, “Are There Greek Rephaim? On the Etymology of Greek Meropes and Titanes,” is the source for most of what follows.[v] The subject matter of his paper is dense. It’s way outside our scope to reproduce his chain of logic entirely, so I’ll summarize as best I can.
The Greek word merops has a West Semitic origin, the same root (rp’) from which we get Ugaritic rpum and Hebrew Rephaim. The Greek poets Hesiod and Homer used the phrase meropes anthropoi (μερόπων ἀνθρώπων)[vi] to describe the “golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Kronos when he was reigning in heaven.”
So, the heroes of the distant past, who lived during the reign of Kronos, king of the Titans, were called Rephaim by the Hebrews. And Hesiod provides another clue to the identity of the meropes anthropoi:
When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods. But after earth had covered this generation—they are called Pure Spirits (daimones hagnoi) dwelling on the earth, and are kindly, delivering from harm, and guardians of mortal men; for they roam everywhere over the earth, clothed in mist and keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds, givers of wealth; for this royal right also they received.[vii] (Emphasis added)
Note the fate of the meropes anthropoi: At death, they became daimones—demons.
More on that and why it’s relevant to Christians in our next installment.
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