Revisiting Israel’s religion

Posted: February 10, 2013 by J in Bible
Tags: , ,

I’ve spent a lot of time in Luke’s Gospel, and discovered how much mileage can be made looking at how he adapts and retells Mark’s story. Every change he makes is significant, often the changes are the key to understanding what Luke wants to say through a particular borrowed episode.

It’s lately occurred to me that the same thing needs to be done with Israel’s law. There are obviously many areas of overlap with the other ANE religions. And big differences too. What I’ve realised is that separating out the two could be quite important for appreciating the emphasis of the OT Law. The borrowings, even though they were the bulk of the material, may be less important – Yahweh’s concessions to traditional practices and expectations, etc. But the changes, now they will be important. They represent the things Yahweh really cares about. Even though they might take up less space in the corpus, still they could well be the main things.

This of course matters because we often explain the gospel of Jesus against an OT law background. How we present that background can exercise a controlling influence on the gospel we preach. So we’d better have the background right. We’d better catch the drift, get the emphases right.

I’m sure this is not a new thought – just new for me. So now I want to find out about ANE religious practices and beliefs. I am dead keen to reread the Torah in this light, I can’t help thinking there’ll be good insights to be gained.

I suspect there’s a stack to be gleaned from the Hebrew Scriptures themselves. But can anyone suggest some further reading – a primer or intro to ANE religion, or something?

  1. Mike Wells says:

    John Walton ‘Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament’
    see also his reading of Genesis one, I forget the title, I think it is the ‘lost world of Genesis 1’ or something
    or on the theological front
    Douglas H Knight ‘ The Eschatological Economy’ uses a bunch of work done especially on OT cosmology and sacrifice and its relationship to the cultures around.

    Mary Douglas’ stuff on Leviticus and Numbers is fascinating, mostly because she is from an anthropology background, write THE book on taboo and purity, which then gets used by a bunch of biblical scholars. Then she looks at levticus and says ‘ no, something else is going on here’

    A bit speculative but Margaret Barker “The Gate of Heaven: The history and symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem” kind of interacts with intersections of ANE and temple symbolism I think

  2. Mike Wells says:

    see if you can find it on google books and get his bibliography because it is going to be fairly intro stuff, and you’ll want detail

  3. Mike Wells says:

    My hunch is too that if you read the annoying liberal commentaries on the OT they will often have a heap more reference to this kind of stuff.

  4. Alan Wood says:

    Wow, Wellsie *is* pretty awesome.

    Don’t buy annoying liberals, whatever you do. They’re impossible to read, so they’re only good for research. Use the MTC library, it’s the BIGGEST IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE.

    I was going to suggest Pritchard (sp?), Ancient Near Eastern Texts, for the primary materials.

    You’re right, it’s not massively original, but run with it now while you’re keen, and you should learn plenty.
    John Woodhouse’s OT1 lectures covered some of the Mesopotamian background for Gen 1 – try the bibliography for those.
    For a different take, go to and find the article Making sense of Genesis 1 by Rikk Watts. Lemme quote the blurb:
    “This is marvellous reframing of Genesis 1. Rikk interprets the text through the schemata of creation as God’s temple, and humanity as the divine image governing the temple. He shows how this motif was grounded in Egyptian thought, which of course influenced Moses, but shows how Moses brilliantly expands it under the auspices of divine revelation. It is a lengthy paper but a good one. Read in conjunction with Iain Provan’s talk on ‘What is creation’.”

    I read the Watts paper in an airport lounge one day. I think it’s doing what you want to do.

    The biggest problem with any of this is that while we have Mark and Luke, and the literary relationship is obvious (even if which way it goes, and how, is a little fuzzy), we’ve got less with the OT. We can’t always be sure that we have enough to reconstruct ancient worldviews, or that we have the key background texts against which the OT writers are playing.

    • Jonathan says:

      thanks heaps Alan, that’s very helpful. I suspect I have to pay to use MTC library?

      Genesis 1 is deeply interesting, I remember enjoying Woody’s lecture on this. At the moment I’m keen to explore the Torah more widely, esp the ‘law’ stuff, sacrificial system, etc.

  5. Mike Wells says:

    Watts sounds pretty similar to Walton on the gen 1 stuff, I think Meredith Kline goes there from the other end (Temple is new cosmos)

    I’ve got one of the volumes of ANE te
    xts, might have lent to a dude at church though.
    You’ve inspired me to go back and look at Mary Douglas again though. Take a look at Leviticus as Literature (Google books..hooray for freeness.. oh to live near the Moore College library!!), and look at her intro chapters, especially the ‘two ways of thinking’ bit. I reckon this has challenging implications for the linguistics stuff you were talking about a while back, simply because I reckon OT (and NT) writers seem to make correlations that seem irrational to us. (ie, they treat language in naughty ways like using etymology!!)

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks mate. have now ordered Walton. I’ll start there, then maybe move on the Douglas.

      In future, anything I want to know about, I’m coming straight to you.


  6. Keith says:

    I’m a little partial, being related to the author, but this might be worth a look: Admonition and Curse:
    The Ancient Near Eastern Treaty/Covenant Form as a Problem in Inter-Cultural Relationships, by Noel Weeks. Can read a fair bit but not all on google books. Sydney uni library or MTC may have it. I think it questions some of the typical borrowing hypothesis.

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