Book Reviews

Book Review: Urban Legends of the Old Testament (Croteau & Yates)

The Old Testament makes up three-fourths of our Bible. Because it was written in a culture 3,000-3,500 years before our time, there is much that is hard to understand. (The same goes for the slightly more recent New Testament. See my review of that volume.) It’s easy to take today’s debates and read them into the text. For example, if the earth is old, there must be a long, unmentioned gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 (ch 1). (This just so happens to be when Satan fell. He and his followers lived on the earth, destroyed it, and so God judged the earth and re-created it in Genesis 1:2, something that is also not mentioned in the text.)

The grammar and syntax don’t tell us how old the earth is. Instead, by comparing and contrasting the text with other texts at the time (in the ancient Near East), Moses shows us “creation out of a watery chaos” (5). The authors write, “The purpose of biblical revelation was not to correct ancient cosmogony or to provide advanced scientific understanding of how the world was created. The biblical writer also employed parallels with ancient Near Eastern creation accounts to polemicize against the false beliefs reflected in the pagan myths and stories of creation” (5).

Rather than trying to fit in a “gap” of time, Christians should read Genesis 1 and 2 and see that the God who saved us in Christ is the same God who created all things. He has all power and authority. He creates by speaking, and he created us with a special status (1:26-27). He is “worthy of our worship and obedience” (6).

With 40 total chapters, each chapter begins with a legendary teaching on the text (such as how Behemoth and Leviathan in Job 40-41 are dinosaurs, ch 22). The next section counters the legendary teaching (these two creatures are probably the hippo and crocodile, well-known animals in the ANE, but they are “representative of the forces of chaos and evil that stand in opposition to God,” 134).

The next few sections elaborate on how the legendary teaching is wrong. The authors show how the details of Behemoth and Leviathan sound like that of a hippo and crocodile. However, given other passages in Job (3:8; 26:12-13), other places in the OT that speak of Leviathan (Ps 74:12-14; Isa 27:1) and Rahab (Ps 89:10; Isa 51:9; cf. Job 9:8, 13), and other passages in ANE literature, the author of Job is portraying evil not through mythical creatures but as an actual reality. The authors write, “In the larger theology of the Bible, the dragons and sea monsters of the ancient Near East point to the reality of Satan and powerful forces of evil that are at work in the world. Job has questioned God’s justice because of his unfair suffering, but perfect justice does not exist in a fallen world” (137). (For a more in depth look at this interpretation, see Robert Fyall’s Now My Eyes Have Seen You, which I reviewed here.)

The chapter ends with an application and annotated bibliography. Concerning Job, Job reminds us that God’s sovereignty is unchallenged by evil. His kingdom will prevail over all wickedness and spiritual forces, though it looks like things are running amock now.

Other misconceptions:

  • Radical Islam inherited Ishmael’s violent spirit (Gen 16:12)
  • The tabernacle was an elaborate picture of Jesus (Exod 25-40)
  • OT saints were saved by keeping the Mosaic law (Lev 18:5)
  • The tithe in ancient Israel was 10% of their income (Lev 27:30-33)
  • Imprecatory psalms are horrible models for Christian prayers (Ps 109)
  • God created evil (Isa 45:7)
  • Isaiah 9 contains a prophecy against post-9/11 America (Isa 9:10-11)
  • Gog of Magog refers to the leader of Russia (Ezek 38-39)
  • Jonah’s preaching produced the greatest revival ever (Jonah 3)

Recommended?

This is a very helpful book for pastors who may face these legends in their church (or they may even believe some of them). However, you don’t always have to agree with the authors.

Is the Trinity taught in Genesis 1:26? Even good scholars disagree on this (Tom Schreiner: Yes; Peter Gentry and Michael Heiser: No).

Is the angel of the Lord the preincarnate Jesus? The authors say no, but Michael Heiser (who endorsed the book) argues against their view here in his book The Unseen Realm (which I have written about here, here, and here). Albeit, Heiser doesn’t say, “Hey, this is Jesus,” but he does point to a Jewish belief in the two powers in heaven where Yahweh was up in heaven but another Yahweh figure physically represented him on earth (see Dan 7:9ff., Exod 23:20-23, and Exod 15:3).

What does taking the Lord’s name mean? Though the authors mention in a footnote Dan Block’s view that it means we represent God, Carmen Joy Imes makes an excellent case in her book Bearing God’s Name that this particular commandment is focused on how we represent God through both our actions and our words, not just through our words alone.

This is well-researched and well-argued. No matter if you are a pastor or a church-goer, it helps to have our interpretations challenged. We are not perfect and are not always correct. Shouldn’t we aim to know what the Bible is really saying?

Lagniappe

  • Authors: David Croteau & Gary Yates
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (December 1, 2019)

Buy this from Amazon or B&H Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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