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?