Pinched Off

A while back I was reading through the book of Job when I came across the words of Elihu, Job’s younger friend, that he spoke to the suffering patriarch.

The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Answer me, if you can;
set your words in order before me; take your stand.
Behold, I am toward God as you are;
I too was pinched off from a piece of clay.
(Job 33:4-6, ESV)

That same day I was reading from the Epic of Atrahasis and read this about Mami’s creation of humanity.

She kept reciting her incantation,
For Enki, staying in her presence, made her recite it.
When she had finished her incantation,
She pinched off fourteen pieces (of clay),
(And set) seven pieces on the right,
Seven on the left.
(Dalley, 1989, 16)

Not long after that I read this in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

They called upon great Aruru:
‘You, Aruru, you created [mankind (?)]!
Now create someone for him, to match (?) the ardour (?) of his energies!
Let them be regular rivals, and let Uruk be allowed peace.’
When Aruru heard this, she created inside herself the word (?) of Anu.
Aruru washed her hands, pinched off a piece of clay, cast it out into open country.
(Dalley, 52)

Without getting into the question of when the book of Job was written or compiled, it is clear that the author was influenced by the culture of which he was part. David Clines in his commentary on the book of Job notes that here in 33:6

Elihu uses an expressive word for the creation of humans from clay. They have been “pinched off” (קרץ) from a lump of clay, as a potter nips off with the fingers the piece of clay to be worked into a pot or plate….The same image appears famously in the Gilgamesh Epic when the female creator deity Aruru “nipped off clay” to create Enkidu – interestingly enough, in order that he should be the equal of Gilgamesh….There does not seem to be a direct allusion to the creation of Adam out of the mud of the earth in Gen 2:7 (the term חמר “clay” is not used in the creation narrative). (Cline, 2006, 727)

We all know that culture affects the way we think, speak, and write. Ancient writers were no different. Here we see a clear example of ANE ideas creeping into biblical texts. Elihu, the text tells us, was “pinched off” from a piece of clay just like Job was. It is not merely a sign of solidarity – Elihu is trying to assert that he has every right to his views as Job does. He is from the same Potter, formed by the same hands that formed Job.

Printed Works Cited

David J. A. Clines. Job 21-37. WBC: 18a. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006.

Featured image by Soyer Isabelle.


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