Walton on ANE thought – a book review

Posted: April 11, 2013 by J in Bible, Book review
Tags: ,

Have now finished Wellsie’s excellent suggestion, Walton’s Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. Takes me that long to read a book, I’m afraid.

It is a remarkable book, very useful indeed. I found I wanted to read it all, and got insights into the OT all along the way. Sadly nothing much about human sacrifice, which was my original interest. But plenty of gold.

Incidentally Andrew Shead from Moore College also recommended this book. His comment about it was:

It is an excellent survey, puts you in touch with all the primary sources, and, although I think he overplays his hand from time to time, in general he is a model of proper theological appropriation of comparative material.

I would agree with that assessment. Walton does at times draw conclusions that don’t clearly flow from his material. But the material itself is clearly presented, highly interesting, and most relevant to reading the OT. Basically he’s providing a whole lot of context so we can get a sense of where the OT sits comfortably in the thought traditions of the day, and where it stands out with a critique of those traditions.

That’s pretty important don’t you think? If a writing includes nine traditional ideas, and one original, new idea, the emphasis is surely on the new one, right? It’s what stands out. So this provides a whole dimension of insight into the emphases of the OT.

Walton sees ANE scholars as tending to disparage Christian faith, and he sees confessional scholars as tending to ignore ANE studies. Both of these approaches are inadequate, he says. Confessional writers have nothing to fear from ANE studies, and much to learn. They can’t afford to ignore them any longer.

The book is nicely set out too, and easy to read one chapter at a time. He keeps reminding you of his main methodological principles along the way, which is good. Writing style is pleasant in general, with occasional rough patches. Well-referenced, a good number of footnotes. Quite a responsible, well-researched presentation. There’s a lot of scholarship packed into this little book, and he makes it accessible for us dummies. Nice.

Of course you don’t get to go in depth into anything, but this is an introductory book. Gives a good overview of the field of ANE literature studies, and how they relate to the OT.

I felt I learned something good in almost every chapter. For instance, the place of naming creatures as a part of the creative act itself – I hadn’t been aware of that. Sheds interesting light on Genesis 2. The idea of the city as a religious centre, the home of a god who had built the city for his use – that shed some light on Genesis 11, Babel. Fascinating to compare ANE prophecy with Israel’s prophecy: only in Israel is there a regular theme of judgment in prophecy. Elsewhere the theme is virtually unknown: prophecy normally served to bolster the status quo, not challenge it. Only in Israel did the prophets often speak against the current regime.

I couldn’t help wondering if it wouldn’t have helped to include more the insights of other disciplines besides literary studies: broader archaeology etc. There’s a little of this, but not much.

Anyway, definitely worth owning and reading. A bargain at $20 or there-abouts.

Now I can get on to reading what I’ve really been wanting to read for ages: some beautiful Colin Gunton. The One the Three and the Many. Mmmm. That’s my reward for effort!


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