Andrzej Mrozek - Silvano Votto, «The Motif of the Sleeping Divinity», Vol. 80 (1999) 415-419
This note discusses biblical and Mesopotamian texts that contain the motif of a sleeping divinity. Their comparison shows that the presence of the same theme, sleep, is not sufficient of itself to make the texts parallel. The other common element, the need to awaken the sleeping divinity, must be present in the texts for parallelism. The note shows that the biblical texts have their Mesopotamian parallel not in the texts where a deity wishes to sleep and cannot, but rather where he is sleeping and must be awakened.
The motif of the sleeping divinity, as Batto has already noted1, is present in the Old Testament. He has studied it in his article, especially in the second part, where he speaks about "Biblical Appropriations of the Motif of the Sleeping Deity". It is also the subject of a note by H. Jacobson2.
This motif appears in the biblical passages where the root N#$y refers to God. The root in its various verbal forms means "to sleep, to rest, to be quiet"3. In Ps 44,24; 78,65; and 1 Kings 18,27 it is accompanied by the verb Cyq which means "to wake up, to rise from sleep, to get up". In Ps 121,4 the verb N#$y appears along with the verb Mwn, which is a synonym for N#$y in the prophetic texts4. The combination N#$y Cyq, to sleep and to wake up, is the basis of the biblical motif (Ps 78,65 and 1 Kings 18,27). In Ps 44,24 these two verbs are complemented by a third verb, rw(, "to rise, to get up". In Ps 78 the three verbs create a sequence: to sleep, to wake up, to get up.
The root N#$y appears in different contexts and is part of various formulations. In Ps 44,24 we find it in the question N#$yt hml, "why do you sleep?", followed by two imperatives, hrw( "get up, wake up", and hcyqh, "wake up". These three verbs together comprise an appeal to God to wake up. The sleep of the divinity has been interpreted in different ways. Kraus sees a plea in Ps 44,24, "Stürmische Bitten beschließen das Klagelied des Volkes"5 addressed to God who has hidden his face so that it seems that he has fallen asleep or has forgotten his people6. The sleep of God could indicate his inattention to this prayer, as Dahood observed7.
Ps 78, 65 uses the very graphic image of a hero who wakes up from his sleep, rwbgk ynd) N#$yk Cqyw, to describe the god who intervenes8. However, in 1 Kings 18,27 the question, Cqyw )wh N#$y ylw), "perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened" is a kind of provocation that Elijah addresses to the priests of Baal. To complete this brief survey of the motif of the sleeping divinity we also note Ps 121,4 where it is said that the guardian of Israel, N#$yy )lw Mwny-)l, "does not doze and does not sleep".