Hebrew In Israel | Mabul – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Mabul – Learn Torah

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We find in the Bible that God is praised for his power over nature, and every time a storm hits, we get a little touch of our creator’s power.  Using power over nature was a very common tool in the ancient near east for describing a god, and this was no different when it came to the Israelites.  Like us today, the Israelites lived in the current culture, and it was only later on, when the Judeans realized the problematic effect of the contact with the nations, that they became isolated and created their own world of concepts.

For many years there has been a verse I have been saying in the synagogue every Shabbat eve during “Qabalat Shabbat” (קבלת שבת– the receiving of the Shabbat) that I could never understand.  It is verse 29:10 from the book of Psalms:

יְהוָה, לַמַּבּוּל יָשָׁב; וַיֵּשֶׁב יְהוָה, מֶלֶךְ לְעוֹלָם

YHWH sat enthroned at the flood; YHWH sits as King forever.

Though the English translates the Hebrew correctly, as a Bible scholar it didn’t make any sense— God becomes king because he brought a flood?  Why did the Psalmist use such a dark part of human history to praise God?  And moreover, it doesn’t fit the rest of the psalm?!  The psalm mentions the power of God by describing the uprooting of trees and His massive power over the world, but it is all general and nonspecific, so why would he now, just with this verse, write about the flood?

I kept on wondering about this, and then I found the answer:  Apparently, there was another ancient meaning to the word Mabul; it was another name for the upper waters mentioned in Genesis 1 which was divided by the Raqi’a (sky–but mostly means divider in the text).  In Mesopotamia, it was called “Abubu” and referred to the throne of the gods.  God is enthroned in the heavens as king with the upper waters called in Hebrew the Mabul which functions as his throne.

It is common to think that the words used in the Bible were specific only to the Bible, but in the early 1900s when Ras Shamra (a headland near Latakia and Minet el-Beida in northern Syria) was discovered, it was made very clear that everyone in the near east was using the same words.  Knowing this I can give us a new reading in the verse.  When using this interpretation we discover that what the psalmist meant was that God has a throne in heaven on the upper waters making him king above all.

In a world where water can be a source of life and death, it would make sense to describe the creator as one who has power over such a source.

Originally Published:  January 7, 2015

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