It is tough being an evangelical Old Testament scholar. As a New Testament scholar, I can say this. While the New Testament side of things has its own challenges, the Old Testament presents countless issues, questions, and potential pitfalls.
Examples of such issues are legion. How should we take the creation account in Gen 1? How much of Genesis is history? Who wrote the Pentateuch? Was the Old Testament transmitted with reliability? What about the textual variations in the Dead Sea Scrolls? Why would God command the Israelites to slaughter whole cities, including women and children?
However, in recent years, a new challenge to the OT has surfaced (though it is not really new). Scholars like Pete Enns and Kent Sparks have highlighted how the Old Testament authors were influenced by, and often used ANE literature. They interpret this usage as evidence that the OT authors adopted the mythical and pagan worldview that was present in the ANE literature.
In light of this challenge, I appreciate John Currids’ latest book, Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament. Dr. Currid is the Carl McMurray Professor of Old Testament here at RTS Charlotte.
In this wonderful volume, Currid tackles the question of the relationship between the OT and ANE literature from one particular angle, namely how the OT writers often engage with the surrounding ANE world in a polemical fashion. The OT writers use ANE literature to be sure. But that is not because they are adopting it, but because they are often arguing against it.
Currid writes this volume not for scholars but for laypeople. Thus, it would be a great book to give to someone who is struggling with the historical reliability of the Old Testament.
Here is a quote from the prologue:
This book is about the relationship between the writings of the Old Testament and other ancient Near Eastern literature. It is a difficult, complicated, and much-debated topic in the field of biblical studies today. To be frank, there is little consensus regarding exactly how the two relate to each other. There are extremes, to be sure: on the one hand, some believe that ancient Near Eastern studies have little to contribute to our understanding of the Old Testament and, in fact, constitute a danger to Scripture. On the other hand, there are some who would say that the Old Testament is not unique but it is merely another expression of ancient Near Eastern literature that is grounded in myth, legend, and folklore. Surely the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes.
It is certainly undeniable that the historical, geographical, and cultural context of the Bible is the ancient Near East, and study of the era has much to add to our understanding of the Old Testament. But it is also true that the Old Testament worldview is unique in the ancient Near East, and this is immediately confirmed by its all-pervasive monotheism. It simply does not swallow ancient Near Eastern thought hook, line, and sinker. And so, the question for modern minds in this regard is, what precisely is the relationship of the Old Testament to ancient Near Eastern literature?
Chris LeDuc says
Good post and thanks for the book recommendation.
I’ve been wondering recently as I am reading Readings From the Ancient Near East Primary Sources For Old Testament Study for my class at TMS, how much the ANE literature is a reflection of what God taught man and was then corrupted. For example it makes sense that we have other cultures that have a skewed version of Noah’s flood. It makes sense that other cultures have skewed versions of Adam and Eve. Since all of mankind would have knows these stories and they corrupted them as they themselves became more and more corrupt, I wonder how much of ANE culture was purely invented by corrupted man, and how much was corruption of what God had revealed to man? For example, as I am reading treatises and covenants from the ANE that long precede the writing of the TORAH I can’t help but wonder if the animal sacrifices that were “cut” in a covenant was something from God initiated that then became corrupted, or did God use something that man purely invented when He came to Abraham and God “met him where he was at” in Genesis 15? While the OT texts are definitely not the oldest versions of many things done in the ANE, that does not mean that the practices in the OT were necessarily “borrowed” from surrounding cultures and then God chose to “meet them where they were at”, does it? I think the story of Cain and Able would be another good example – we speculate from their story that God had revealed what an animal sacrifice was, what was acceptable etc so that would suggest 1) that of course God revealed much more than what we have recored in the OT and 2) that there is a good probability that much of what was being practiced in the ANE originated by things that God originally taught man and became corrupted.
I just wanted to clarify one thing to make sure I am getting you right when you said:
“ Scholars like Pete Enns and Kent Sparks have highlighted the issue of how the Old Testament authors were influenced by ANE literature, even adopting the pagan, erroneous, and mythical worldview that went along with it.
I think you are saying that the authors adopted “erroneous and mythical worldview[s]” in their personal lives, but you are NOT saying that those “erroneous and mythical worldview[s]” crept into their writings (the OT) are you?
Michael Kruger says
Thanks, Chris. Perhaps my article was unclear on this point. I have changed the wording to make it more clear. My point is that these scholars think that the OT writers adopted the mythical worldview of the ANE culture (not that these scholars themselves adopted such a worldview).
Chris LeDuc says
That edit makes perfect sense now.
Sean Hadley says
Thanks for highlighting the book. I’ll be adding it to the Amazon wish list.
Out of curiosity, have you read any of John Walton’s stuff along these lines? I know that Walton’s willingness to consider theistic evolution turns some people off.
Kent Sparks says
Just to be clear, the Apostle Paul quoted pagan Greek poets, so this applies to the NT as well.
Yes, Kent, we know you cast aside the NT too. Thanks for being clear.
Jed Paschall says
Great review, Dr. Currid, along with conservative scholars like Walton have done a remarkable job of engaging the ANE context of the OT without surrendering a high view of Scripture. On the contrary, they masterfully read the text in it’s cultural setting in such a way that adds further depth and texture to our understanding of God’s work amongst his people in the OT.
I can remember sitting under Walton in my days at Moody (before he went on to Wheaton), especially his Genesis and ANE History courses, and thinking that he has opened up the floodgates of insight into the mysteries of the OT. I have only had the privilege of reading Dr. Currid, but he operates in a similar manner, and at the end of the day only bolster confidence in the authority and reliability of the OT.
BTW, Dr. Kruger – do you know of any works in OT scholarship that might correlate to your work on the Canonicity and authority of the NT?
Michael Kruger says
The best OT canon books are Beckwith’s and Steinmann’s. But, neither really deal very much with the theology of canon. We are overdue for a new evangelical work on the OT canon.
Fred Greco says
Thank you for highlighting this book. Dr, Currid is a thoughtful, insightful, and clear Biblical scholar. I was blessed to have had him as a professor in seminary. I would also recommend his commentary on Exodus – in which similar material is treated as it comes up in the text.