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Chaoskampf

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Chaoskampf

Chaos

Rome.
Children Erebus and Nyx

Chaos (Greek χάος, khaos) refers to the formless or void state preceding the creation of the universe or cosmos in the Greek creation myths, more specifically the initial "gap" created by the original separation of heaven and earth.

Terminology

Greek deities
series
Titans and Olympians
Aquatic deities
Chthonic deities
Personified concepts
Other deities
Primordial deities

Greek χάος means "emptiness, vast void, chasm, abyss", from the verb χαίνω, "gape, be wide open, etc.", from Proto-Indo-European *ghen-, cognate to Old English geanian, "to gape", whence English yawn.[1]

Hesiod and the Pre-Socratics use the Greek term in the context of cosmogony. Hesiod's chaos has often been interpreted as a moving, formless mass from which the cosmos and the gods originated, but Eric Voegelin sees it instead as creatio ex nihilo,[2] much as in the Book of Genesis. The term tohu wa-bohu of Genesis 1:2 has been shown to refer to a state of non-being prior to creation rather than to a state of matter.[3][4] The Septuagint makes no use of χάος in the context of creation, instead using the term for גיא, "chasm, cleft", in Micha 1:6 and Zacharia 14:4.

Nevertheless, the term chaos has been adopted in religious studies as referring to the primordial state before creation, strictly combining two separate notions of primordial waters or a primordial darkness from which a new order emerges and a primordial state as a merging of opposites, such as heaven and earth, which must be separated by a creator deity in an act of cosmogony.[5] In both cases, chaos referring to a notion of a primordial state contains the cosmos in potentia but needs to be formed by a demiurge before the world can begin its existence.

This model of a primordial state of matter has been opposed by the Church Fathers from the 2nd century, who posited a creation ex nihilo by an omnipotent God.[6]

In modern biblical studies, the term chaos is commonly used in the context of the Torah and their cognate narratives in Ancient Near Eastern mythology more generally. Parallels between the Hebrew Genesis and the Babylonian Enuma Elish were established by H. Gunkel in 1910.[7] Besides Genesis, other books of the Old Testament, especially a number of Psalms, some passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah and the Book of Job are relevant.[8][9][10]

Use of chaos in the derived sense of "complete disorder or confusion" first appears in Elizabethan Early Modern English, originally implying satirical exaggeration.[11]

Chaoskampf

The motif of Chaoskampf (German for "struggle against chaos") is ubiquitous in myth and legend, depicting a battle of a culture hero deity with a chaos monster, often in the shape of a serpent or dragon. The same term has also been extended to parallel concepts in the religions of the Ancient Near East, such as the abstract conflict of ideas in the Egyptian duality of Maat and Isfet.

The origins of the Chaoskampf myth most likely lie in the Proto-Indo-European religion whose descendants almost all feature some variation of the story of a storm god fighting a sea serpent representing the clash between the forces of order and chaos. Early work by German academics in comparative mythology popularized translating the mythological sea serpent as a "dragon." Indo-European examples of this mythic trope include Thor vs. Jörmungandr (Norse), Tarhunt vs. Illuyanka (Hittite), Indra vs. Vritra (Vedic), Θraētaona vs. Aži Dahāka (Avestan), and Zeus vs. Typhon (Greek) among others.[12]

This myth was ultimately transmitted into the religions of the Ancient Near East (most of which belong to the Afro-Asiatic language family) most likely initially through interaction with Hittite speaking peoples into Syria and the Fertile Crescent.[13] The myth was most likely then integrated into early Sumerian and Akkadian myths, such as the trials of Ninurta, before being disseminated into the rest of the Ancient Near East. Examples of the storm god vs. sea serpent trope in the Ancient Near East can be seen with Baʿal vs. Yam (Canaanite), Marduk vs. Tiamat (Babylonian), Ra vs. Apep (Egyptian Mythology), and Yahweh vs. Leviathan (Jewish) among others.

There is also evidence to suggest the possible transmission of this myth as far east as Japan and Shintoism as depicted in the story of Susanoo vs. Yamata no Orochi, most likely by way of Buddhist influence.[14]

The Chaoskampf would eventually be inherited by descendants of these ancient religions, perhaps most notably by Christianity. Examples include the story of Saint George and the Dragon (most probably descended from the Slavic branch of Indo-European and stories such as Dobrynya Nikitich vs. Zmey Gorynych) as well as depictions of Christ and/or Saint Michael vs. the Devil (as seen in the Book of Revelation among other places and probably related to the Yahweh vs. Leviathan and later Gabriel vs. Rahab stories of Jewish mythology). More abstractly, some aspects of the narrative appear in the crucifixion story of Jesus found in the gospels.[15]

Greco-Roman tradition

For Hesiod and the early Greek Olympian myth (8th century BC), Chaos was the first of the primordial deities, followed by Earth (Gaia), Tartarus and Eros (Love).[16] From Chaos came Erebus and Nyx.[17]

Passages in Hesiod's Theogony suggest that Chaos was located below Earth but above Tartarus.[18] Primal Chaos was sometimes said to be the true foundation of reality, particularly by philosophers such as Heraclitus.

Ovid (1st century BC), in his Metamorphoses, described Chaos as "a rude and undeveloped mass, that nothing made except a ponderous weight; and all discordant elements confused, were there congested in a shapeless heap."[19]

Fifth-century Orphic cosmogony had a "Womb of Darkness" in which the Wind lay a Cosmic Egg whence Eros was hatched, who set the universe in motion.

Alchemy

The Greco-Roman tradition of Prima Materia, notably including 5th and 6th centuries Orphic cosmogony was merged with biblical notions (Tehom) in Christian belief and inherited by alchemy and Renaissance magic.

The cosmic egg of Orphism was taken as the raw material for the alchemical magnum opus in early Greek alchemy. The first stage of the process of producing the Lapis Philosophorum, i.e., nigredo, was identified with chaos. Because of association with the creation in Genesis, where "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2), Chaos was further identified with the element Water.

Alchemy in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Blessed Raimundus Lullus (1232–1315) wrote a Liber Chaos, in which he identifies Chaos as the primal form or matter created by God.

Swiss alchemist Paracelsus (1493–1541) uses chaos synonymously with element (because the primeval chaos is imagined as a formless congestion of all elements). Paracelsus thus identifies Earth as "the chaos of the gnomi", i.e., the element of the gnomes, through which these spirits move unobstructed as fish do through water, or birds through air.[20]

An alchemical treatise by Heinrich Khunrath, printed in Frankfurt in 1708, was entitled Chaos.[21] The 1708 introduction to the treatise states that the treatise was written in 1597 in Magdeburg, in the author's 23rd year of practicing alchemy.[22] The treatise purports to quote Paracelsus on the point that "The light of the soul, by the will of the Triune God, made all earthly things appear from the primal Chaos."[23]

Martin Ruland, in his 1612 Lexicon Alchemiae, states, "A crude mixture of matter or another name for Materia Prima is Chaos, as it is in the Beginning."

The term gas in chemistry was coined by Dutch chemist J. B. Van Helmont in the 17th century, directly based on the Paracelsian notion of chaos. The g in gas is due to the Dutch pronunciation of this letter as a spirant, also employed to pronounce Greek χ.[24]

See also

Notes

References

  • Clifford, Richard J, "Creation and Destruction: A Reappraisal of the Chaoskampf Theory in the Old Testament", Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 2007.
  • Day, John, God's conflict with the dragon and the sea: echoes of a Canaanite myth in the Old Testament, Cambridge Oriental Publications, 1985, ISBN 978-0-521-25600-1.
  • Gantz, Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, Two volumes: ISBN 978-0801853609 (Vol. 1), ISBN 978-0801853623 (Vol. 2).
  • Hesiod, Theogony, in The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914.
  • Rudman, Dominic, "The crucifixion as Chaoskampf: A new reading of the passion narrative in the synoptic gospels = La crucifixion comme Chaoskampf: une nouvelle lecture du récit de la Passion dans les évangiles synoptiques", Biblica 84, 2003, 102-107.
  • "Chaos"
  • Wyatt, Nick, Arms and the King: The Earliest Allusions to the Chaoskampf Motif and their Implications for the Interpretation of the Ugaritic and Biblical Traditions (1998), republished in There's such divinity doth hedge a king: selected essays of Nicolas Wyatt on royal ideology in Ugaritic and Old Testament literature, Society for Old Testament Study monographs, Ashgate Publishing, 2005, ISBN 978-0-7546-5330-1, 151-190.

External links

  • The Theoi Project, "KHAOS"
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