This book is about the relationship between the writings of the Old Testament and other ANE (ancient Near Eastern) literature. If you’ve never heard of this field of study, you may be surprised to hear that it (as with anything that has to do with the Bible) is a heavily debated topic: how does the Bible relate with ANE literature? Some believe ANE studies are actually a danger to Scripture. Others say the Old Testament is not unique but merely another book of ANE myths simply retold to another audience.
The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.
“And I care…why?”
The context of much of the Old Testament is set in the ANE culture, yet the Old Testament (and the Bible as a whole) is grounded in monotheism. So what is the Old Testament’s relationship to ANE literature?
If you’ve never heard of this, it’s more interesting than you might think.
Currid’s objective is to show that the idea of polemics (here and here) in literature is not foreign to the Old Testament, it was very common in ANE culture, and the Old Testament writers used it well.
What is Polemical Theology? It is “the use by biblical writers of … stories that were common in ANE culture, while filling them with radically new meaning. The biblical authors take well-known expressions … from the ANE milieu and apply them to the person and work of Yahweh, and not to the other gods of the ancient world.” It “rejects any encroachment [invasion] of false gods into orthodox belief; there is an absolute intolerance of polytheism. Polemical theology is monotheistic to the very core.”
It’s purpose is to emphatically demonstrate the distinctions between the worldviews of the Hebrews and the rest of the ANE.
The Chocolate Milk
- Currid looks at the parallels in the ANE/Bible stories before giving the contrasts. It actually builds suspense because, even though I know he’s going to prove his point, it leads me to try to figure out how he’ll dig himself out of the hole he’s in. [Spoiler: he does].
- Currid sets out to prove the authenticity of the Bible’s polemics. Just because there are parallels between an ANE myth and the Bible doesn’t mean that both are myths. There’s no reason one cannot be myth and the other true history. Just because TV has “Desperate Housewives” doesn’t mean that newspaper stories of adultery are fake. So even the stories of a “spurned seductress” in ANE myths doesn’t mean there can’t be a true account in Genesis [38, with Joseph and Potiphar’s wife].
- The real highlight of the book was the Polemical Angle at the end of almost every chapter.
For example: At the end of chapter 3 Currid shows what it meant for Genesis 1-2 as a creation story to be a polemic against other ANE myths.
Genesis 1-2 isn’t written as a myth, but as a real historical narrative.
There is one God in Genesis 1-2 (monotheism), and He is completely unlike humans. In ANE myths the polytheistic gods, much like people, they abuse their power, they’re full of envy and bitterness, and they’re sexual and perverted.
God creates the world by His own will and power, not because He fought of sea creatures, or killed a god and spread her out to make the sky.
In Genesis 1-2, though God is the main character, humans take on a much more personal role. They are given life by the breath of God. He allows them responsibility. He teaches them lessons and gives them a garden to live in and take pleasure in. In ANE myths humans take a backseat to the story. They’re just created to work. The gods care little about the people.
- Currid goes through a number of different small-scale
+++++God’s strong arm (Ex 3:19-20) vs. Pharaoh’s strong arm
+++++“Thus says the Lord” (Ex 5:1) vs. “Thus says Pharaoh”
+++++Yahweh the heavenly rider (Isa 19:1-15; Ps 104:3) vs. Baal
+++++The serpent confrontation (Ex 7:8-13), etc.
and large-scale examples
+++++Creation (Gen 1-2)
+++++The Flood (Gen 7-9)
+++++Joseph (Gen 37:12-36, 39:7-18)
+++++The Birth of the Deliver Moses (Ex 2:1-10)
+++++The Flight of Moses (Ex 2:11-25)
+++++I Am who I Am (Ex 3)
+++++The Rod of Moses (Ex 4:1-5; 7:8-13; 14:19-31)
+++++The Parting of the Red Sea (Ex 14:19-21)
to show his point.
The Spoiled Milk
- This book is short. Not bad, but I felt like Currid spent more time talking about ANE parallels than polemics. And that was the main reason why I bought the book: the polemics.
- I’d rather know the biblical details than the ANE geographical details of where ANE literature was found, how much of it was found, the different kinds of lists found, etc (ex: Atrahasis at Ugarit, p. 53; Hittite Tales, p. 83; information about what the “Walls of the Ruler” is p.91). This is fine, but considering the size of the book, the polemical paragraphs were too short and too few.
- In almost every chapter (meaning over and over) Currid would state the same 3 differences between the ANE account and the biblical account:
- Myth vs historical fact.
- Theology (poly vs mono) (one God to rule them all).
- The importance of humans in the Bible narrative vs ANE myths.
At least, these were usually worded differently in each chapter, and there was still the P/A section in the end.
- One big one for me was in Chapter 10 (The Parting of the Waters of the Red Sea). Instead of spelling out the arguments on how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Currid doesn’t want to repeat himself and instead points us to the “relevant literature” (an article he wrote in Bible Review ).
I understand there may be page # restrictions, but I don’t want to have to search out a magazine from 20 years ago when I could read it in the book, especially when I can’t seem to find the copy on the internet (for free, at least).
Considering Pharaoh’s hardened heart is a well-known, difficult Bible passage, and seeing how it relates to Egypt literature is very important to understand the meaning, I don’t think anyone would mind if Currid repeated himself here. (And swapped it with a few ANE readings…)
- Unfortunately, the Polemical Angle/Analysis section isn’t as long as I expected it to be. For something to be so central to the book, the P/A section just didn’t have enough depth. Every time I was left wanting. I read more ANE stories of people who’s names I’ll never remember than I did reasons why Moses wrote the polemic in the first place.
- This book was promising, but left me disappointed.
No. Not to most people.
If you’re a teacher who wants to know more about ANE parallels with the Bible, or a student who has a Bible-bashing college history teacher, then sure, this book would be of help.
But most people just won’t want to read this book, especially when there’s more ANE information than polemical detail available.
For most people, just listen to iTunesU: Crass Plagiarism. These three 30-40 min. lectures are very interesting, short, and were the reason I wanted to get this book. You’ll learn a lot from them.
- Hardcover: 160 pages
- Publisher: Crossway (August 31, 2013)
- Crossway: Against the Gods
- iTunesU: Crass Plagiarism
[P.S. Thanks to Crossway for allowing me a free copy to read and review! The words expressed above are my own opinion of the book. Page numbers are from the Adobe Digital Editions version.]