Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament Paperback – 1 Nov 2006
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From the Publisher
An excellent introduction to comparative studies of the Old
Testament and its cultural context --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From the Back Cover
Much of the Old Testament can seem strange to contemporary
readers. However, as we begin to understand how ancient people viewed the
world, the Old Testament becomes more clearly a book that stands within its
ancient context, while also speaking against it.
John Walton offers a thoughtful introduction to ancient Near Eastern
literature and the `common cognitive environment' that it provides for
understanding the world of ancient Israel. After surveying types of
literature, he considers the perspectives they offer on beliefs about gods,
religion, the cosmos, people and history.
Throughout, helpful sidebars focus on Old Testament interpretation to
illuminate the continuities and discontinuities between the Israelites and
Walton suggests that there are three important roles that comparative
studies can play in biblical interpretation: critical analysis, defence of
the biblical text, and exegesis. He focuses particularly on the third
aspect and its importance for preventing misinterpretation through the
imposition of modern world-views.
This volume provides an excellent introduction to the field of comparative
studies and will be an important guide for all those who want to make use
of extrabiblical resources to enrich their understanding of ancient Israel
and its Scriptures.
John H. Walton (PhD Hebrew Union College) is Professor of Old Testament at
Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. He is the author or editor of
numerous books, including 'A Survey of the Old Testament', 'Old Testament
Today', and 'The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament'. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is divided into five parts:
Part 1 Comparative Studies (to p40)
- this is introductory tracing the history of comparative study, the theology, etc.
Part 2 Literature of the Ancient Near East (p43-83)
- a hugely useful summary of all ancient Near Eastern literature so far unearthed
Part 3 - Religion (p87-161)
- describing the various ancient gods, temples and religion, etc. of the Near East
Part 4 Cosmos (p165-199)
- explaining ancient understandings of the physical and spiritual universe
Part 5 People (p203-329)
- explores the ancient's understanding of themselves in history, the future, within society, etc.
Indexes, etc. follow
I was keenly looking forward to this book to compliment V H Matthews' Old Testament Parallels and Bancroft-Hunt's superb Historical Atlas of Ancient Mesopotamia. I was not disappointed. In Part 1's introduction it is easy to absorb Walton's clear and honest enthusiasm for the concept of comparing various ancient world views with the biblical world view.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The logical format of this book gives the reader a simple and effective way to slowly enter into the worldview of ancient people. The author is very good at giving readers hinge concepts to help understand the distinctions between our worldview and their worldview.
The book categorizes ancient near eastern thought into topics that are actually enjoyable to read. Each topic could easily overlap with other topics, and Dr. Walton does a great job of separating the topics without distorting them (in my opinion).
This book tackles thorny issues that separate Evangelicals from Liberals in the land of scholars, without alienating either side of the issue. Walton's premise is that we should abandon the old approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Thought and simply understand what they believed, and how it was different from or the same as Old Testament thought.
One concept that emerges as the book develops is the idea that some Israelite prophets argued for the support of the covenant with God rather than for the reinforcement of the Kings authority (as the prophets of other cultures and sometimes Israeli culture did). This sets Israeli prophets who held to the covenant with God at odds with everyone else who prophecied in Israel and around Israel. Coupled with the exclusiveness of the Jewish religion, and the people soon became alienated from those around them and sometimes from their own religion or people.
Probably the most helpful aspect of this book is his excellent approach to comparative studies without labeling certain parts of the bible as extensions of other cultures or vice versa. His approach, when properly understood, is actually what both sides of the historical divide on this topic ought to be doing. I find it not only full of wisdom, but extremely helpful in preparing sermons from the Old Testament.
A nice companion to this volume is The Bible Background Commentary of the Old Testament. I think that this book shows you how to use the Bible Background Commentaries.
One criticism that I would like to mention is that some of the charts in this book are a bit difficult for me to understand. That's an area that the next edition may have to improve on. However, there are only a few pages like that and the rest of the book is really a very very good summary and introduction to Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament.
Some of the topics he covers include but are by no means limited to:
The Ancient View of the World.
The Ancient view of the heavens.
The Ancient view of Temples
The Ancient view of Omens and Magic.
I think he has around 13 topics in all. This book is well worth reading and if you plan to teach from the Old Testament over the years, you might want to pick up a copy for your personal library. It's packed with helpful references also.
The section on Literature of the Ancient Near East is is a good, although very brief, survey of the literature of the ancient near east including Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite. The author has included a good cross section of ritual texts, letters, chronicles, legal collections, hymns, wisdom literature, and prophecy.
The section on Religion is subdivided into The Gods, Temples and Rituals, and State and Family Religion. Here the reader is exposed to ancient thought on these subjects with the intent that they come to understand the common beliefs and practices well as beliefs and practices that differentiated them from each other.
The section on the Cosmos examines both the geography of the cosmos and the beliefs surrounding them. The section on the geography of the cosmos is excellent and includes an examination of the structure of heaven, the earth and the netherworld. I found this section to be particularly interesting and very informative with an excellent exposition on the Hebrew word "bara" and the functional aspects of naming.
The final section on People provides an excellent examination of the various concepts of creation of the human race as well as what it means to be human. It also includes a very good explanation of the interaction between the people and their religion including prophecy, oracles, and their perception of history as a nation. This section ends with a discussion of the beliefs about the future of the earth and what happens after death.
Throughout the book the author has included excellent side-bar sections offset in shaded boxes that further illuminate related ideas and concepts. These often contain some of the best and most interesting observations of the material if you are already somewhat familiar with the subject.
Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament provides a solid comparative study of the various literature from the ancient near east showing both commonalities and differences with the beliefs of the nation of Israel. The book clearly sets the culture of Israel in the Old Testament times alongside those of its neighbors and allows the reader to better understand the mindset of the time. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament is highly recommended.
You can see from the other reviews how great this book is. I only want to reinforce two points.
First, in addition to the general understanding you will get from this book, there are two specific things that may happen to you as you read. If you take the Bible reverently, you may initially feel uncomfortable to learn about how much similarity there is in thought, behavior, belief, and even religious customs between the OT and its Ancient Near Eastern neighbors. However, by contrast, you will be delighted and amazed to see many of the most important, distinctive aspects of OT teaching stand out from that ancient background in a way you could have never before imagined. Both types of information, by the way, increase our understanding of the meaning of the biblical texts - that is, both types of information will provide you with many, many "Aha" moments.
The second point is this. As I write, this is the 12th posted review, and 11 of the 12 are 5 star reviews. The only 4 star review complained that the book seemed much like a college textbook (which I believe it is!). If, like that reviewer, you find it a bit tough going, I encourage you to stick with it! There's a lot to digest. But aside from some strange sounding names of "gods" and names of ancient practices, Walton writes in a clear style which the general reader can enjoy.
If you read the OT, or ever plan on doing so, get this or you are destining yourself to understand much less of it than you otherwise could.
Huh?! Apparently, none of the photographs or figures in the printed book are included in the eBook. They are omitted "because of rights restrictions:"
Photo 1: Cunieform Writer OMITTED
Photo 2: Black Obelisk OMITTED
Photo 3: Sennacherib Prism OMITTED
... and so forth all the way through the eBook.
What the heck is that about? The eBook has the same publisher as the printed book.
The absence of the photographs and figures is not a deal-breaker. But their omission is puzzling and it reduces the value of the eBook.